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R v Matthew Grant Webster [1990] NSWSC, 70012190

Matthew Webster was the first murderer in New South Wales to be sentenced under the truth in sentencing legislation. Webster pleaded guilty to Leigh Leigh’s murder and on 24 October 1990, Justice Wood sentenced him to a minimum of 14 years with an additional 6 years during which he would be eligible for parole. Justice Wood found that Webster’s motivation for killing Leigh was his fear she would report his sexual assault upon her. Although Webster was the only person to be charged in relation to Leigh’s death, the circumstances surrounding her death allegedly involved the physical and verbal violence of a number of young men. The nature of the violence raises the question of the roles of mateship and male bonding in acts of collective sexual violence. The issue of gender was obscured in the original judgment, which instead emphasised the ‘aberrant’ nature of the working-class community in which the violence occurred.

Commentary author

Kirsty Duncanson is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University. While maintaining a central focus on the intersections of law, crime and the social world, Kirsty has an interdisciplinary approach to her research.

Judgment authors

Honni van Rijswijk is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney. Her research is in the intersections between law and culture, focusing on the justice claims of those whose suffering is rendered invisible through dominant legal and cultural frameworks.

Lesley Townsley is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney. Lesley researches in criminal law and criminal procedure, particularly law reform. Lesley’s research interests also include the inclusion and exclusion of emotion in law and legal practice.

R v Middendorp [2010] VSC 202

A new offence of defensive homicide was introduced into Victorian law in 2005. It applies when a person kills believing it is necessary to do so in self-defence, but that belief is ultimately not found to be reasonable. This offence was expected to apply particularly to cases where battered women kill their abusers. In 2008, Luke Middendorp stabbed his female partner, Jade Bowndes, four times in the back in what he claimed was self-defence. He had a history of perpetrating violence against Bowndes and was charged with murder. Despite the fact that that Middendorp weighed 90 kg and Bowndes 50kg, that Bowndes had been stabbed in the back, and that the judge accepted evidence that Middendorp had previously threatened Bowndes with serious harm, the judge directed the jury that it was open to find Middendorp guilty of defensive homicide, which it did.

Commentary authors

Jane-Maree Maher is Director of and Associate Professor in The Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research in the School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University. She is currently researching homicide defences.

Sharon Pickering is a Professor of Criminology in School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University and an ARC Future Fellow. She researches irregular border crossing and has written in the areas of refugees and trafficking with a focus on gender and human rights.

Judgment authors

Danielle Tyson is a Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University. She is currently examining changing legal responses to intimate partner homicide.

Kate Fitz-Gibbon is a Lecturer in the Department of Criminology at Deakin University. Her recently completed doctoral research examined the effects of approaches taken to reforming the partial defence of provocation.

Jude McCulloch is a Professor and Head of the School of Political and Social Inquiry in the Faculty of Arts, Monash University. Her research focuses on state terror, state violence and state crime.

R v Morgan [2010] VSCA 15

Steelie Morgan committed 12 offences comprising eight counts of causing injury with intent, two counts of common assault, one count of threat to kill and one count of false imprisonment. He was 24 years old at the time he committed the offences against a 15-year-old girl, with whom he had formed a relationship. Morgan pleaded guilty to the offences and agreed to participate in a Victorian Koori Court sentencing process. He appealed his sentence on the grounds that it was manifestly excessive and that the significance of his participation in the Koori Court process had not been accepted as a mitigating factor by the sentencing judge. Two Victorian Court of Appeal judges allowed the appeal and reduced the total effective sentence by 18 months. In making this determination, the Court of Appeal gave little or no consideration to the seriousness of the crime and the impact the offending behaviour may have had on his now ex-partner. A feminist sentencing decision, replacing the Court of Appeal decision, would balance the benefits of allowing an offender to participate in a culturally appropriate sentencing process with the needs and concerns of victims of domestic and family violence related offences.

Commentary author

Heather Douglas is a Professor in the T C Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland. Previously, Heather was a part-time commissioner with the Queensland Law Reform Commission. Her research interests lie in the relationship between Indigenous people and the criminal law and the way the criminal law impacts on and constructs women.

Judgment authors

Elena Marchetti is a Professor in the Law School at the University of Wollongong. Elena has previously been a Member of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT). Her research interests include Indigenous and feminist critiques of criminal justice processes, and access to justice for minority groups.

Janet Ransley is Head of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. Previously Janet acted as a researcher and policy advisor for the Queensland Legislative Assembly and for the Criminal Justice Commission (now the CMC), and in private legal practice. Her research interests include crime and criminal justice policy.