This article was written by Lisa Taylor - Senior Associate - Gympie

Lisa holds a Masters in Law and a Bachelor of Laws. She also holds a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the Australian National University, and is admitted as a Lawyer to the Supreme Court of Queensland and as a solicitor to the High Court of Australia. As a senior associate, Lisa’s focus is on advocacy. She ensures all clients...

What is a Joint Trial? (Qld)


A person may be described as a co-accused when they are one of two or more alleged offenders who have been charged together and are to be tried in the same criminal proceeding. Where more than one accused is charged with committing a crime jointly, the court will often presume that a joint trial should take place. However, persons charged together may be tried separately where there is a particular reason that this should occur.

Principal Offenders and accessories

Section 7 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) (Criminal Code) states that it is an offence to:

  • Aid;
  • Abet; or
  • Counsel and/or procure another person to commit a crime.

It is also an offence to be an accessory after the fact. For example, a person who assists a murderer to hide a body may be charged as a party to the offence of murder.

Under this section, any person who aids, abets or counsels another person in committing an offence may be charged and convicted with the same offence as the principal offender.

This means that even though a person may not have committed acts making up the offence, they may be charged and convicted of the offence if they aided in the act being carried out. They could also be liable to the same level of punishment as the person who committed the physical acts making up the offence if they are convicted.

Sentencing after a joint trial

There is a bunch of factors that the court must take into account when sentencing co-offenders charged with the same offences. When sentencing co-offenders, the court aims to sentence each offender proportionately and taking into account the degree of criminal culpability of each offender.

Culpability is the level of responsibility the offender has for the offence and for the harm he or she caused. A court will consider the circumstances to determine to what extent the offender is to blame for an offence. Generally, the higher an offender’s culpability, the more seriously the offence will be taken and the more severe the sentence they will receive.

The common law parity principle applies to co-offenders in the context that they should receive a similar penalty if the offence and circumstances are similar. However, differences in age and personal and criminal history, as well as culpability, may justify a different sentence. Parity is an aspect of ‘equal justice’ (that is, courts should treat the same or similar offending alike, and different offending differently).

When is a joint trial beneficial?

A joint trial can be beneficial in circumstances where there are multiple co-offenders accused of an offence as it allows for all of the evidence relevant to the offence to be introduced. This allows the jury to gain an informed understanding of the circumstances of the offending.

In a trial of two or more co-accuseds, each offender is tried individually. This means that it is possible for any number of the co-accuseds to be found guilty of the offence and that some co-accuseds may be found guilty while others are found not guilty.

All of the accuseds may be convicted of an offence that arises from the same act. For example, where a group of people assault another person and are charged with assault occasioning bodily harm under section 339 (1) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld), they may all be convicted of that offence.

Generally, in this situation, the prosecution will introduce evidence in the proceedings that implicates all of the accuseds, and then other evidence that implicates each co-accused separately.

Where one offender introduces evidence that revolves around the character of another accused, that evidence is only relevant to the proceedings of the offender who adduced the evidence. This can lead to an alleged offender bringing forward evidence that is at odds with the defence of another offender. For this reason, it may be in the interests of the defence of one or both of the co-accuseds to be tried separately.

When are separate trials beneficial?

When a person has been charged jointly with another person but believes it would be unfair for them to be tried together with the other person/s, they may make an application for the charges to be heard separately.

If an order is made for this to occur, the different defendants will be tried separately. This may be necessary where there is evidence that is admissible in relation to one defendant but not in relation to the other.

Defences and joint trials

Where there are two accuseds and each has a defence that is at odds with the other’s, one accused can lead evidence of the prior convictions of the other to show that the first accused’s version of events is the likely one. Within a joint trial, an accused may also deny that they are the offender and place all responsibility upon another co-accused.

Another defence that is likely to be relevant to this situation is the defence of duress, where it may be argued that that one accused forced the other to perform the act with which they are both charged.

Where a defence of duress is made out, the accused will be found to have had the intent to commit the crime. However, he or she will be found not guilty because the intent was formed because of a threat. This defence is only likely to be successful where there has been a threat of death or serious injury, or where the threat would have made an ordinary person act in the same way.

The defence of duress is not available in relation to murder; however, it is available for most other serious offences.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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