List member Elizabeth Wilson QC appeared for the intervenor in Hytch v O’Connell  QSC 75, an application for judicial review of the Central Coroner’s findings.
The applicant had a relationship with a 15 year old girl, Ms Antonio. After he had begun a new relationship she went to meet him to discuss matters and disappeared. He was convicted of manslaughter, but this verdict was set aside due to jury misdirection. He was acquitted at the second trial.
The Central Coroner (the intervenor) began investigating in 2013 and delivered his findings on 28 July 2016, concluding that Ms Antonio died on the night she disappeared as a result of an altercation with the applicant who then first hid and then later disposed of her body. The applicant sought orders that those findings be set aside on the grounds firstly that the inquest was heard and determined under the Coroners Act 2003 (Qld)(‘2003 Act’) when it should have been conducted in accordance with the Coroners Act 1958 (Qld)(‘1958 Act’) and secondly that the findings were conjecture rather than inferences of fact that were open on the available evidence.
The first ground turned on the meaning of death as provided by s 100 of the 2003 Act which states that the 1958 Act applies to a pre-commencement death, which is defined in s 100(4) as a death that was reported to a police officer or coroner before the commencement of the section. The applicant argued that the section should be read as though it said ‘death or suspected death’.
Applegarth J noted that the word death in surrounding sections did not seem to have the meaning contended for by the applicant. Also noted that neither her death nor her suspected death had been reported to the police before the commencement of the section – she had been reported as a missing person only, and the section requires that a death be reported – not that the investigation of a missing person becomes an investigation to a suspected death.
In respect of the second ground for review, Applegarth J observed that the challenge to the finding of facts involved two questions. The first question was whether the applicant had established that there was no probative evidence to support the finding and the second question was whether the applicant had established that no reasonable decision-maker could reach the finding on evidence which it was open to the decision-maker to accept.
Applegarth J reviewed the evidence. Each of the findings depended on circumstantial evidence. He noted that the standard of proof was the Briginshaw standard rather than beyond reasonable doubt and that an acquittal by a criminal court does not preclude a subsequent guilty verdict from a civil court.
The coroner was required under the act to find, if he could, whether Ms Antonio died and, if so, how, why and when she had died.
Applegarth J observed that in some circumstantial cases there are intermediate facts that are essential to the finding, such as that two people were in the same place at the same time. Here an essential finding was that Ms Antonio met with the applicant and this finding was open on the evidence. He noted that the coroner considered other scenarios besides that the applicant killed Ms Antonio.
Applegarth J concluded that there was probative evidence to support each of the coroner’s findings and dismissed the application.
See judgment here: https://www.sclqld.org.au/caselaw/QSC/2018/075