District Court ‘Severity Appeals’ in NSW: Appeals from the Local to the District Court

by Ugur Nedim & Sonia Hickey
District Court ‘Severity Appeals’ in NSW: Appeals from the Local to the District Court

29-year old Victorian man Anthony Khallouf was arrested in Sydney just days before the planned protest in the CBD on Saturday, 24 August 2021, after travelling down from Queensland.

Days before the planned gathering, Mr Khallouf uploaded a social media video jokingly conceding the potential “super spreader” event was cancelled, before declaring “nah f–k that shit, I’ll see you guys this Saturday”.

In another video posted to Instagram, Mr Khallouf said his life was “under imminent threat” and urged followers to call the police.

Police alleged that Mr Khallouf had been one of the organisers of the Sydney Protest, which attracted thousands of people and resulted in confrontations between police and those in attendance.

According to media reports, 47 people were arrested and a further 261 handed infringement notices during the event.

Pleas of guilty

On Friday, 23 August 2021, Mr Kallouf pleaded guilty in Hornsby Local Court to four counts of not complying with a public health order and one count each of encouraging the commission of a crime and making false representations resulting in a police investigation.

The Presiding Magistrate, Robyn Denes, sentenced him to a full term of eight months in prison with a minimum term of three months.

Appeal to the NSW District Court

Yesterday, Mr Khallouf came before Downing Centre District Court to appeal against the severity of the sentence imposed on him.

During the appeal hearing, Mr Khallouf’s lawyer, Oussama Elfawal from the law firm Crimcorp Defence Lawyers told the court that the offences did not cross the threshold required for a full time custodial sentence to be imposed.

But District Court Judge Helen Syme was not convinced, nor persuaded to impose a more lenient penalty.

The judge described one of the videos posted by Mt Khallouf as “alarming”, expressing the view that COVID-19 presents a real risk to vulnerable members of the community.

“Encouraging 100,000 people to come out in those circumstances is not only stupid and irrational, I might say, but of danger to the community and a serious offence in itself,” the judge remarked.

Appeal dismissed

Judge Syme came to the view that a full time custodial sentence was indeed warranted, and agreed with the term imposed in the Local Court.

She dismissed the appeal, and Mr Khallouf will have to serve at least three months behind bars.

District Court severity appeals in New South Wales

A person who is dissatisfied with the penalty imposed by a New South Wales Local Court has a right to appeal to the District Court.

This is known as a District Court severity appeal.

These hearings are ‘de novo’ – or new hearings – and the appellant does not have to demonstrate that the Local Court made an error of law, that a miscarriage of justice occurred or that there was any other form of legal, factual or procedural mistake; the District Court will hear the case and make its own findings afresh.

Timeframe to file appeal

The period for filing the appeal is 28 days from the date of the Local Court sentencing hearing

However, this can be extended to up to three months from the date of the Local Court sentencing hearing if the ‘leave’ (permission) of the District Court is obtained.

The application for ‘leave’ is normally heard on the same day and immediately preceding the scheduled appeal itself.

An application for leave will be granted if the extension of time is ‘in the interests of justice’.

Appeal hearing

At the appeal hearing, the prosecution (normally a solicitor from the DPP) will hand an ‘appeal bundle’ up to the judge – which will include the appellant’s criminal record, court attendance notice, the ‘facts’ of the case, any materials handed up in the Local Court (such as character references, letter of apology, any medical materials etc).

The defence can also hand up any additional documents for the judge to consider.

In more serious cases, the defence may call the client or any other defence witnesses to ‘give evidence’ – which means put them on the witness stand and ask any questions.

If this occurs, the prosecution will also have the opportunity to ask any questions.

Once all of this occurs, both the defence and the prosecution will have the opportunity to make ‘submissions’ – which means talk to the judge about the case with a view to persuading him or her to reach a certain outcome.

A defence lawyer may submit written submissions and/or follow these up with oral submissions, or make oral submissions only. This will often depend on the nature and complexity of the case, as well as the outcome sought.

After all of this occurs, the judge will decide whether to uphold the appeal and impose a lesser sentence (which may include a ‘non conviction order) or refuse the appeal and confirm the penalty imposed in the Local Court.

Parker warnings

It is important to be aware that the District Court judge is only permitted to impose a penalty that is harsher than that which was imposed in the Local Court if he or she first gives the defence what is known as a ‘Parker warning’.

There is no prescribed way of giving such a warning, but it will normally takes the form of something like,

  • ‘I am considering a harsher penalty. Are you sure you wish to proceed with the appeal?’, or
  • ‘I am of the view the Local Court penalty was too lenient. Are you sure you want to proceed?’.

If a Parker warning is given, it is normally prudent to withdraw the appeal at that stage; however, there are exceptions to this rule.

One of these exceptions is if the judge indicates that he or she wishes to increase the prison term imposed in the Local Court (eg from 8 months to 12 months) but deal with it by way of an alternative to a full time custodial sentence (eg impose an Intensive Correction Order rather than a full time prison sentence).

In practice, the existence of Parker warnings means that an experienced lawyer will be able to ensure that his or her client will never receive a harsher sentence than that which was imposed in the Local Court.

Considering an appeal against your Local Court sentence?

If you are unhappy with the penalty imposed by a New South Wales Local Court, it is critical to engage specialist appeal lawyers to thoroughly prepare and persuasively present your appeal in the District Court.

At Sydney Criminal Lawyers, severity appeals are an area of our specialisation.

Our experienced criminal defence team frequently succeeds in having Local Court penalties significantly reduced on appeal – including achieving ‘non conviction orders’ such as:

In serious cases where the Local Court has imposed a prison term, we are frequently able to persuade District Court judges to quash the sentence and impose a non-custodial penalty instead.

So, if you are considering a severity appeal, call us today on (02) 9261 8881 and let our experienced defence team fight to achieve the most lenient outcome in your case.

 

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Authors

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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