Subjective assessments of risk — Jury verdicts as a litmus test for community perceptions of violence.

Dr Helen Cockburn1, Dr Charlotte Hunn1

1University Of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Australia

This pilot study investigates 15 years of jury verdicts in the Supreme Court of Tasmania for two forms of serious assault (n = 350). In trials for wounding and grievous bodily harm (GBH), as the finders of fact, juries operate where the law and community perceptions of the risk of injury converge.  Proof of the external elements of these offences requires an objective assessment of whether the evidence establishes that the injury suffered by the complainant meets the relevant legal test. Both offences also require proof of a specific mental element, beyond merely that the harm causing act was voluntary. Jurors can only be satisfied of this mental element where they find that the accused intended to cause the injury or that the accused was reckless as to the likelihood that their act would cause the particular harm. Where the mental element takes the latter form, jurors are required to engage in a subjective assessment of the accused’s awareness of the risk of the specific injury. Arguably, in undertaking this assessment, jurors are informed by broader socio-political discourses about risk and violence. This reality, coupled with legislative provision for an alternative verdict of common assault if jurors are not satisfied of the more serious offence, offers a novel means by which to gauge shifts in community understandings of risk and perceptions of different forms of violence over time.


Biography:

Dr Helen Cockburn is the Coordinator of Police Studies at the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania. She also lectures in Criminal Law and Evidence. Her doctoral thesis examined the construction of consent in sexual offence trials and she has been a regular commentator on rape law reform and the implications of affirmative consent standards in the criminal law more generally.  She was a post-doctoral researcher with the Tasmania Law Reform Institute for a number of years and has a continuing interest and engagement with law reform issues particularly in the areas of sexual and family violence and access to justice.

Dr Charlotte Hunn is an early career researcher and Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania. Charlotte’s doctorate investigated online child exploitation material (CEM) offending and, more broadly, her research explores issues around the intersection of crime, public opinion and crime prevention. Charlotte coordinates and lectures in Criminal Law.

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