It’s All Important, But It’s Not All Relevant.

In the R v Smith appeal, the appellant contested the sentence imposed and several facts which formed part of the agreed factual basis she was sentenced on. Ultimately, the appeal was dismissed, and the head sentence of 3 years suspended after 9 months for 5 years remained for the charges of Fraud and Obstruction of justice.

For sentences/pleas of guilty in the Magistrates Court, the District Court, and the Supreme Court an “Agreed Statement of Facts” is used by the parties to identify the factual basis the defendant is being sentenced on. This avoids any surprises by either side and assists the court to be clear about what happened and what the defendant is being sentenced for.

In the Smith appeal the agreed schedule of facts included that when posting the car for sale, Ms Smith did not mention that the car was under a lease. After she had been sentenced, Ms Smith sought challenge some of the agreed facts, saying for example that she did not know she had to advise the car was under a lease.

These challenges however did not impact her case. Why?

When reviewing charges, Criminal lawyers are evaluating the facts and evidence against the elements of the offence our client has been charged with. In this case the facts Ms Smith sought to challenge facts that did not impact the elements of the offence, or her culpability, in any material way.

A break down and example of the elements of fraud can be found here.

This appeal related to the charge or fraud. And while we do not know what sub-section of fraud in the Criminal Code Ms Smith was charged and sentenced under, we can make some assumptions for the point of demonstrating how “elements” of offences work.

We can break it down like this, the elements of fraud are:

  1. A person:
  2. Obtains property from any person:
  3. Dishonestly:


Applying the facts to the elements we get the below:

  1. A person: Ms Smith.
  2. Obtains property from any person: The money Ms Smith obtained from selling the car.
  3. Dishonestly: Selling a car that she knew was leased without the agreement of the lessor.  Arguably the funds should have been paid to the financier or transferred to the financier (depending on the contract) not used to pay gym memberships, school fees and other living expenses.

Bearing in mind the agreed facts, Ms Smith’s challenge to the facts, even if accepted, would not change the elements of the charge. In relation to advertising without stating the car was leased, which Ms Smith said she did not believe was a requirement, Justice Morrison said “That is of no moment in light of the admitted fraud, which was to sell the car without seeking or obtaining the lessor’s consent, and without paying the lessor”.

For the client, sometimes everything feels relevant and important. While it might feel important, sometimes it is just not relevant and the fact the client wants to argue over might be pointless.

It falls on the solicitor to explain this to the client. Continued push back on a schedule of facts may result in a contested fact sentence or losing the ability to negotiate further. Taking this approach may run up legal costs needlessly, especially where the contested fact does not have a sufficiently relevant connection to the elements of the offence.

For the lawyers, it is not just about getting the facts signed to cover our risk it is also about making sure the client understands what is happening and why.

How to make your point in a short period of time in a busy court

Recently I took part in an online lecture by a family court judge who is also a trainer at the advocacy Institute of Australia. The purpose of the course was to offer insights for advocates in how to affectively represent a client in a busy court.


The reality of a criminal lawyer’s work is much of the day-to-day court time is spent in a busy Magistrates Court where the case load is heavy for both the Magistrate and the Prosecution and the lawyer having armfuls of files to get through. It is always painful to see lawyers speaking as if they are being paid by the word. My clients are aware my role is to make the best forensic decision about the materials and arguments. When to push for the result we want, and when to abandon extra arguments and materials that do not assist.


Where the facts, charges, and the law lean towards a fine with conviction as the most likely and appropriate result, I am not going to tell the court about every small details of the client’s childhood but instead focus on reducing the range of the fine based on relevant facts and my client’s capacity to pay. In addition to saving the court time, it is also more likely the Magistrate will listen to and understand my argument, which best benefits my client. There is no point in talking at length for the pleasure of hearing my own voice.


At the advocacy lecture it was suggested that at the start of your submissions you should tell the court what you are seeking and then outline the reasons why. This is “Sign Posting” in the context of mooting, and it applies to advocacy in practice. It looks like this on paper:


Argument: Fine with no conviction recorded:

  1. Early plea
  2. Limited capacity to pay a fine
  3. Minor facts of offending
  4. Lack of criminal history

When you are on your feet it sounds like this:


I am seeking a modest fine with no conviction recorded, for four reasons. 1st, the client is entering a plea at the first opportunity; 2nd my client works part time and only makes $500 per week net, 3rd the offending is not very serious for these types of offences and 4th my client has no criminal history. Does your honour require any further submissions?”


The last sentence is an invitation to the court to indicate if they require more information from you, or that they should engage in a discussion about the range if they disagree. This would only be appropriate in some situations; it would be crazy (and possibly negligent) to keep the arguments so short in many cases. Much of what lawyers do when advocating for their client is knowing what information to give the court and how to convey it.


Personally, I like to prepare for every plea as if I am going to have to argue hard for what I am after. It is better to be prepared and not need the arguments then to need them and not have them. I might have 3 or 4 reference letters at the ready and a number of other prepared arguments to “rock and roll” if I need to, but depending on the situation I may only use the top two or three points to get the result I am after in a busy courtroom.


And remember, Magistrates are time poor.

The Rolodex of arguments – Not recording a conviction.

One of the many things criminal lawyers do is spend time thinking about the best way pitch reasons for what they are asking the court to do when planning for a plea of guilty. In some circumstances the real issue for our clients is if a conviction will be recorded or not.

Using the reasoning of judges in other cases is one way to "build a bank" or Rolodex of arguments that might be used to help clients in the future.

In Kemp v The Commissioner of Police [2021] QDC 30 where a young woman was convicted of a $15 fuel drive off, on appeal the District Court found recording of a conviction was manifestly excessive. Case note can be found here.

Some of the turns of phrases used Loury QC DCJ of the District Court when deciding it was excessive to record a conviction were:

  • It has been accepted that there is at least some social prejudice which attaches to the recording of a conviction.


  • That prejudice may result in the offender being continually punished in the future in a way not commensurate with the punishment which is just for the offending. It might also stand in the way of rehabilitation, particularly by making it difficult for an offender to obtain employment (See R v Briese; ex parte Attorney-General (1988) 1Qd R 487.)


Section 12 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 requires only that the Court consider the impact that the recording of a conviction will have on the offender’s chances of finding employment.

Into the bank of nifty turns of phrases goes something to the effect of:

  • Recording of a conviction would stand in the way of rehabilitation by hindering their ability to obtain employment”


  • “the continuing social prejudice of a conviction is not proportionate to the charges”.

Because lawyers love a good disclaimer – here is ours – It boils down to: If you need legal advice see a lawyer. Dr Google isn’t going to prescribe you meds if you are sick, Google LLB isn’t going to give you advice or information specific to your situation.

If you need legal assistance. See a lawyer. We are lawyers, you could see us! Call our office on 07 5414 4209.

You might not read it, but we will rely on it if you try and sue us (smug face).

Like Sizzler for Pleading Guilty – Sentencing Submission Check-List

The “have you thought about this?’ checklist for sentencing submissions in the Magistrates Court.

Once it has been established that a plea of guilty is the appropriate course of action, lawyers then next consider what are the arguments or reasons that can be offered to the court to support the lowest possible penalty to satisfy the balancing sentencing considerations.

I often explain to my clients to think of it as a “buffet” of sentencing options. Every time I have a plea of guilty, I crack out this list and pull out the different considerations and arguments that I think would be most appropriate for my client.

There are other factors not on this list, it is not supposed to be an exhaustive “tick and flick” but an exercise to limber up those mental muscles and force a more considered approach to the task.

My role is then to work with the client to gather the materials that I cannot do for them (such as organising references or a letter of remorse). For my sentences, I like to have as many different arguments as I can up my sleeve and use as few as I need to do to achieve what I want.

When you are standing at the bar table pushing your case, it is helpful to have a document to work from to ensure you have put everything before the court.

After you have sat down and the Magistrate is considering the sentence, it deeply sucks to have to stand back up and say “one more thing”, or worse interrupt the Magistrate when they have started sentencing!

Because lawyers love a good disclaimer – here is ours – It boils down to: If you need legal advice see a lawyer. Dr Google isn’t going to prescribe you meds if you are sick, Google LLB isn’t going to give you advice or information specific to your situation.

If you need legal assistance. See a lawyer.

You might not read it, but we will rely on it if you try and sue us (smug face).