Many Australians may find themselves dealing with a Court matter at some point in their lives. And many of those people will end up feeling decisions made against them, such as conviction and sentencing, were made in error. Luckily, a fundamental tenet of our legal system is the right to appeal a decision against you to a higher court. Below we cover some of the most frequently asked questions about appeals in Queensland but you should always seek a lawyer’s guidance in order to have the best chance at a successful appeal.
When can I make an appeal?
In Queensland, you are generally only able to make an appeal after a sentence has been handed down by the Court. In criminal cases, you can only appeal a guilty verdict and/or a sentence. In both criminal and civil matters you may need to seek leave (permission) to appeal, depending on the original court in which the case was heard.
It can be difficult for a layperson to accurately assess his or her chances of success on appeal. Advice from a lawyer about the grounds on which you should base your appeal and its overall strength should be a priority for anyone disappointed with the initial decision against them.
Steps of the appeal process
Though each case is unique, there is a general order to an appeals process.
- Appeal Book: Once a judgement you regard as unsatisfactory is handed down, you can begin the process of building your case for appeal. You don’t need to start from scratch and in any case, will rarely be permitted to introduce new evidence during an appeal, but you can condense the materials from your original case into an ‘Appeal Book’. The Appeal Book must be purchased by parties to a trial though the fee can be waived if financial hardship can be shown.
- Grounds for appeal: When gathering these materials, a criminal lawyer will be able to review, organize and prioritise the information to give you a better idea of what your grounds for appeal may be.Common grounds of appeal
- Unsafe and unsatisfactory verdict: The jury’s verdict was not supported by the presented evidence and was thus unreasonable.
- Manifestly excessive sentence: The sentence was inordinately severe in light of the circumstances of the case.
- Error of Law: There may have been a mistake regarding the instructions given to the jury, the inclusion or exclusion of certain pieces of evidence, or the reliance upon the wrong facts when reaching the verdict.
- Notice of Appeal: When you are filing an appeal, you need to put several parties on notice to appeal within the time constraints set down by the particular court jurisdiction. These time limits are quite rigid, and failure to comply with them will likely result in yielding some or all of your appeal rights. Though time limits vary, they can be as short as a month after the original decision is handed down, so it is important to act fast.The Notice of Appeal is a formal legal document that provides important pieces of information, including the names of all parties and litigants who will have an interest in responding to the appeal, the date of the original court decision, the initial plea entered, all other pertinent details about the original case, your grounds for appeal, and your argument defending the need for an appeal.
- Appeal bail: A successful application for appeal bail will mean that a person whose sentence included a term of imprisonment can remain free until the time of the appeal. However, in order to gain an opportunity for bail pending appeal, you will need to demonstrate that the case is “exceptional”. An exceptional case is one where there is evidence of “strong grounds for concluding that the appeal will be allowed” and where a substantial portion of the sentence will be served before the appeal can be decided.
- Arguments: Preparation is key. The best way to win on appeal is to address what happened in the lower court, detail the mistakes that were made, how they should be corrected, and why you deserve a different result based on those corrections. A lawyer will know the practice directions required for appellate courts, which set out the strict requirements for argument outlines and timelines for serving them.
- Appeal hearing: If a mistake has been made in your trial or your sentence was unfair in light of the circumstances, you will likely want to tell your side of the story. Preparing your arguments and presenting them to the appellate court is how your lawyer will tell your side of the story.
- Decision: After hearing the arguments presented by your lawyer, an appeal court may deliver their decision at that time (ex tempore) if the decision is unlikely to affect future cases, or at a later date if the decision is likely to create a precedent for the future. If you are again disappointed with the sentence you receive, you may be able to appeal again to a higher court. If this is the case, your lawyer will be able to advise you on next steps.