Coroner likely to be involved in Alva Beach case: law expert says
IT'S not always a crime to kill someone. But only in rare circumstances, where police have "overwhelming evidence", is it left to a coroner to decide if a person killed in self-defence.
Criminal lawyer Bill Potts, who runs Queensland's largest criminal law firm, said this is likely what police have decided in the stabbing death of two men at Alva Beach early on Monday. Police indicated they could refer the investigation to the coroner less than 48 hours after Corey Christensen, 37, and Tom Davy, 27, died from their wounds on Topton St.
Dean Webber, 19, was taken into custody but released without charge on Tuesday.
"When somebody dies, even if they've been killed, it's not necessarily against the law," Mr Potts said.
"Murder is the intentional killing of somebody and manslaughter is the unintentional killing of somebody.
"In some cases it is lawful to kill somebody, and that includes when you are defending yourself or someone else from an attack that may well cause you either death or grievous bodily harm."
Mr Potts said an argument of self-defence took several factors, including the number of attackers, if they were armed, if the person claiming self-defence armed themselves in advance, whether there was a chance of escape and the degree of force used.
"Generally the question of self-defence … is a decision for a jury. But in some cases where the evidence of self-defence is overwhelming, then the matter may be referred to the coroner to make inquiries and sometimes they may hold a public hearing," he said.
Coroners are simply magistrates who specialise in investigating deaths.
The current coroner for the Northern Region, which extends from Cairns to Bowen, is Nerida Wilson.
Mr Potts said the process could take anywhere between six months and several years, although he expected the Alva Beach case would be "given significant priority".
The process now, he said, would be for police to prepare a full brief of evidence for the coroner, who could then ask for more information, such as post mortem examination results and blood tests.
The coroner can choose to either hold a public inquest or deliver the judgment "on the papers" without taking the matter to court.
"The coroner's duty is to determine the name, date, time, place and cause of death," Mr Potts said.
"Secondly, if the coroner believes after hearing evidence that any person may have committed a crime, then they can refer the matter to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions so they can determine if a person should be charged and placed on trial in Supreme Court."
Coroners, in certain cases, especially in workplace deaths, can make recommendations to prevent similar tragedies.
"If you're in your own home going about your own business and people attack you, you're well entitled to defend yourself," Mr Potts said.
"You don't need to wait around and get killed yourself.
"Having said that, two people are dead, and no matter what they were doing and what their intentions were, it is a tragedy."