Chrissa Loukas,Public Defender
1. Introduction to Res Gestae2. The Principle and its Application
3. Caution Required
4. Contemporary Relevance -
Recent CCA Decisions and the Evidence Act
5. ConclusionRes Gestae
IntroductionThe term Res Gestae is a Latin term for transaction.At Common Law, where an incident and the alleged offence form an integral part of the same transaction and the transaction cannot be understood without it and the offence in isolation could only be presented in an unreal and unintelligible form, the incident is admissible
O'Leary v The King (1946) 73 CLR 566 Dixon J at 577..Under the
Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) ('
Evidence Act') such evidence may satisfy the test of relevance under s 55
R v Adam (1999) 106 A Crim R 510,  NSWCCA 189 at para . The Court avoided the use of the term Res Gestae..The introduction of the
Evidence Act has further complicated the discussion of Res Gestae. The first part of this paper deals with the pre-existing Common Law. The second part of the paper deals with contemporary relevance and recent Court of Criminal Appeal cases in light of the
The Principle and its Application
O'Leary v The King(1946) 73 CLR 566In
O'Leary v The King, Dixon J stated that evidence of conduct that forms a part of a relevant transaction will itself be relevant because 'without [evidence of such conduct] the transaction of which the [fact in issue] formed an integral part could not be truly understood and, isolated from it, could only be presented as an unreal and not very intelligible event'.
O'Leary v The King (1946) 73 CLR 566 at 577. The
O'Leary case concerned facts relating to a murder where the victim was found in a dying condition doused in kerosene at a timber camp early one Sunday morning. On the Saturday preceding the murder, the men from the timber camp had consumed a significant amount of alcohol during a day-long 'drunken orgy',
O'Leary v The King (1946) 73 CLR 566 at 566. during which Mr O'Leary savagely assaulted other employees without provocation. In light of these facts, the court held that evidence of these assaults by Mr. O'Leary was admissible pursuant to the principle of Res Gestae. Consequently, the defence was unsuccessful in their objection to the admissibility of the evidence by relying on the argument that that the evidence was wrongly admitted by the trial judge because the prior violent behaviour showed no more than bad character.The reasoning of the court in relation to the admissibility of the assault prior to the murder was based on its transactional nature. The court found that that the evidence disclosed a connected series of events that should be considered as one transaction, not as merely showing bad character. Because the prior behaviour shared inseparable features of a transaction consisting of connected events, of which the murder was an integral part, the evidence was admitted.
O'Leary is an illustration of the Res Gestae principle, in that apparently inadmissible facts can be argued to be so bound up with the facts of the crime.Vocisano v Vocisano(1974) 130 CLR 267In an effort to clarify the doctrine further, the High Court in
Vocisano v Vocisano emphasised the requirement of Res Gestae evidence to contain elements of contemporaneity and spontaneity. In
Vocisano, there was a dispute as to which Vocisano brother was driving a particular motor vehicle when it overturned and injured them both. In determining who was liable for the injuries suffered by the parties, the trial judge admitted evidence of statements made by the defendant to two witnesses' five minutes after the accident, which were divergent from the oral testimony given by the defendant during the proceedings.On appeal, the High Court was unanimous in finding that the trial judge erroneously admitted the statements made by the defendant under the principle of Res Gestae. In his judgement, Chief Justice Barwick not only acknowledged that any determination as to the Res Gestae of a particular statement is always 'fraught with difficulty', but he also acknowledged the paradox inherent in the Res Gestae principle itself:
Although spontaneous statements made by participants or observers of an incident are
prima facie admissible under the doctrine if they are clearly associated with the incident in terms of time, place and circumstances, this in itself will not mean that they will, or even should, be admitted. In essence, the principle in
Vocisano states that for evidence to be admitted under Res Gestae, it must not only satisfy the court that the evidence has not been concocted by the maker, it must also be contemporaneous with the transaction and must be a spontaneous reaction.The essential point that emerges from
Vocisano is that spontaneous statements made by participants to, or observers of, an incident are admissible if they are clearly associated with the incident in terms of time, place and circumstance.Statements made shortly after the event may be admissible under exceptions to the hearsay rule S 65(2)
Evidence Act.. I deal with this later in this paper under 'Contemporary relevance' when dealing with the
Ratten v The Queen 3 All ER 801In spite of numerous attempts to clarify the doctrinal underpinnings of Res Gestae, the actual application of the principle remains problematic, notwithstanding its long common law history. The doctrine has often been described as having uncertain boundaries and has been criticised for its formless nature. In
Ratten v The Queen, it was described by the Privy Council as being an 'opaque or at least imprecise Latin phrase' which 'like many.... is often used to cover situations insufficiently analysed in clear English terms'.
Ratten v The Queen  3 All ER 801 at 806. In
Ratten, the spontaneous cry of a victim of an assault, who later died, identifying her assailant was held to be admissible. The facts of this case dealt with a telephone call by a woman who was alleged to have been attacked and killed by the defendant at the same time in which she asked a local telephonist to send for the police, giving her the address.On appeal it was held that the statement of the deceased woman was admissible in evidence under the res gestae principle. The court's determination gave consideration to the notion of implied assertion; with the implied assertion in this case being that the victim was being attacked. So, although the victim's spontaneous statement had no testimonial effect because it did not expressly assert the existence of an objective fact, the Privy Council recognised that the statement could be construed as implying that the caller was being attacked.The relevant test set down by Lord Wilberforce should be approached with caution. In his judgement, Lord Wilberforce states that:
The danger with this test is that it can be interpreted to apparently extinguish the transactional nature of the Res Gestae principle. For example, in
Pollitt v R (1992) 108 ALR 1 Justice Brennan asserts that 'Lord Wilberforce recognised the admissibility of hearsay in statements admitted under the res gestae exception when he rejected as a test of admissibility [the transactional nature of evidence].'
Pollitt v R (1992) 108 ALR 1 at 19. The reasoning in
Pollitt contradicts the definition of Res Gestae as the Latin term for 'transaction'.The contrary view is that Lord Wilberforce's statement serves to create an alternative analogy of application to assist in determining Res Gestae. Therefore, the test set down in
Ratten suggests that a relevant occurrence can be regarded as a 'drama' rather than a 'transaction' (
Vocisano, at 273) in order to more easily apply the principle of Res Gestae. In
Mills and others v R  3 All ER 865 at 876 their Lordships accepted that the modern approach to Lord Wilberforce's statement on Res Gestae puts the emphasis on the probative value of evidence 'rather than on the question whether it falls within an artificial and rigid category such as being part of a transaction.'
Mills and others v R  3 All ER 865 at 876. Additionally, the court commented that:
R v Ciesielski 1 NSWLR 504Overall, the principle of Res Gestae should be applied with caution. This is one of the lessons that emanate from
R v Ciesielski. In that case, C and others, all members of a notorious motorcycle gang, were convicted of a serious assault upon J. Evidence was admitted at trial that at the time of the assault, a number of men had in the presence of each other engaged in sexual intercourse with two women who either permitted this or were unable to refuse. The Crown contended that such evidence was admissible pursuant to the Res Gestae principle. Allowing the applicants' appeal, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal held that while the evidence of sexual activity was evidence against those concerned, the evidence was not admissible against the other accused as 'it was not an integral part of the circumstances surrounding the assault ... not does the fact that it took place contribute to a better understanding of the circumstances of this assault'.
R v Ciesielski  1 NSWLR 504 per Taylor J at 515 referring to
O'Leary v The King (1946) 73 CLR 566.In referring to
Alister and Others v R (1983) 50 ALR 41,
Alister and Others v R (1983) 50 ALR 41 at 50. the court noted that the greatest care must be exercised in controlling the admission of Res Gestae, lest the accused be prejudiced by evidence of association or simply by innuendo. When evidence of this kind is sought to be adduced, whether by means of cross-examination or otherwise, the trial judge should exclude it if its prejudicial effect appears to outweigh its probative value.
Contemporary Relevance - Recent CCA Cases and the Evidence Act
The application of Res Gestae subsequent to the introduction of the
Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) continues to be problematic. Neither the
Evidence Act itself, nor the cases dealing with the transactional evidence, refer to the doctrine of Res Gestae. Instead reliance is placed on the principles of
O'Leary. In doing so the Court of Criminal Appeal has arguably stretched the principles relating to transactional evidence to include circumstances not traditionally considered as part of the Res Gestae of an offence.R v Adam(1999) 106 A Crim R 510,  NSWCCA 189This case concerned the murder of an off-duty police officer in a hotel carpark, the appellant being found guilty of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on the deceased. At trial the judge admitted evidence that the appellant, at some indeterminate time before the assault, had engaged in a 'staring argument' with a patron inside the hotel.On appeal the Crown argued the evidence was admissible on two bases:
The court held that the principle under
O'Leary had not been abolished under the
It further held that evidence satisfying the test for admissibility under
O'Leary would satisfy the prima facie test for relevance and admissibility under s.55.In relation to the primary issue of whether evidence of this type impermissibly demonstrated tendency or propensity evidence the court explained:
When it came to considering the actual evidence in the case the court accepted that:
Fortunately for the Court the question did not need to be decided - the jury had been effectively directed to ignore the evidence, thus removing any danger of illegitimate reasoning on their part.
R v Player NSWCCA 123In this case the appellant was convicted of malicious damage to the window of a fruit shop. On appeal the appellant challenged the admissibility of evidence of the appellant kicking and slashing a 'For Sale' sign and kicking a bin minutes after the window had been smashed. In dismissing the appeal the court purported to follow
In relation to the fact that the actions of the appellant occurred after not before the offence the court referred at  to
Beserick  30 NSWLR 510 at 520 where Hunt CJ at CL said:
R v Heeng Ung (2000) 112 A Crim R 344;  NSWCCA 195This case concerned an offence of knowingly concerned in the importation of heroin, the heroin being secreted in tins of pineapple. The issue at trial was not the fact of importation but the appellant's knowledge. The evidence established that during the unpacking of the cartons of pineapple from a truck, an alleged co-offender, Mrs Vo, said to the appellant 'Hey, hey, you don't know which one(s)'The comment was relied upon as a reference to that fact that only some of the tins contained heroin. No response was made by the appellant.On appeal the Court confirmed the admissibility of the comment. The comment was evidence of the state of mind or knowledge of the co-offender under
Walton v The Queen (1988-9) 166 CLR 283 at 288. Since the Crown case relied upon joint criminal enterprise this constituted a stepping-stone to proving the knowledge of the appellant.Although the Court found that the comment was not hearsay, it pointed out, in the alternative, that even if the statement was hearsay
The 'alternative basis' propounded by Wilson, Dawson and Toohey JJ in
Walton was set out earlier in the judgment of
R v Serratore NSWCCA 123In this case the court considered the requirement of proximity in relation to the admissibility of evidence under the
Adam principle. The appellant was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend. At the trial the judge admitted evidence of conversations between the appellant and a friend whom he had requested to assist him to kill the deceased
up to five months prior to her death. The evidence had been admitted as evidence of intention under s.72 of the
Evidence Act. In considering this section the court said:
The Court concluded that 5 months was proximate enough in the circumstances of the case.
This appears to be a significant extension from the original transactional nature of evidence under the res gestae rule.R v Mostyn(2004) 145 A Crim R 304;  NSW CCA 97In this case the appellant was convicted of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on his partner. On appeal the appellant challenged the admissibility of evidence of his aggressive and threatening conduct and comments after the police arrived at the scene of the offence, including evidence that he had pointed the rifle at police, the police had taken cover and he had threatened the police to 'back off or I'll kill you'.After a detailed review of the cases the Court applied
O'Leary and concluded:
An interesting aspect of this case is the observation that transaction evidence maybe restricted if it also constitutes tendency or coincidence reasoning.
Sections 65, 66 and 72 Evidence ActIt is important to note that the
Evidence Act contains several sections providing for the admission of contemporaneous statements independent from any reliance upon the doctrine of Res Gestae or any principles under
O'Leary.Section 65 provides for the admission of the following statements in criminal proceedings where the persons making the statement is not available.
This has been used to admit evidence of statements made by dying victims naming their assailant, as well as statements from victims made prior to their death expressing fear of their alleged assailant. (see for example
Polkinghorne (1999) 108 A Crim R 189;
Serratore (1999) 48 NSWLR 101;
Harris  NSW CCA 432).Section 66 provides for the admission of representations made by a person provided that when the representation was made, the occurrence of the asserted fact was fresh in the memory of the person who made the representation. There has been a plethora of cases considering the application of this section including the High Court cases of
Graham v The Queen (1998) 195 CLR 606 and
Papakosmas (1999) 196 CLR 297.Under s.72:
It is this section that was used by the court in
Serratore to extend the application of
O'Leary to statements made by the appellant five months prior to the offence.
The common law principle of Res Gestae has attracted much judicial and academic criticism.There is a general perception that 'the term [Res Gestae] tends to generate more confusion than assistance'. S Odgers,
Uniform Evidence Law (2006) 7th Edition, Lawbook Co, at 404. Such criticism of the principle is not a contemporary phenomenon. As far back as 1939, Professor Julius Stone described Res Gestae as a 'lurking place of a motley crowd of conceptions in mutual chaos and reciprocating chaos', commenting that 'no evidential problem is so shrouded in doubt and confusion'. J Stone, 'Res Gesta Reagitata'(1939) 50
Law Quarterly Review 66 at 67. He argued that the term Res Gestae had been used too loosely to cover a series of distinct conceptions, each of which warranted it's own rules of operation.There has also been significant judicial criticism, as far back as the 1930s. In
Homes v Newton  2 Ch 112 at 121 Lord Tomlin commented:
Ratten v The Queen, Res Gestae was described by the Privy Council as being an 'opaque or at least imprecise Latin phrase' which 'like many.... is often used to cover situations insufficiently analysed in clear English terms'.
Ratten v The Queen  3 All ER 801 at 806.The problems with practical application were highlighted by Brennan J in
Pollitt v R (1992) 108 ALR 1 who emphasised that '[t]he classification of evidence according to this distinction, though clear enough in principle, is frequently obscure in practice'.
Pollitt v R (1992) 108 ALR 1 at 12.The subsequent cases under the
Evidence Act suggest that the problems continue unabated.Chrissa Loukas - Barrister, Public Defender, Public Defenders ChambersRachel Muscat - Student, University of WollongongPractical Legal Training, Public Defenders ChambersJennifer Wheeler - Legal Research Officer, Public Defenders ChambersPrita Supomo - Legal Research Officer, Public Defenders Chambers