Queensland’s highest court has ordered that a businesswoman convicted of trafficking synthetic cannabis be retried after being denied a fair trial, following a ‘judge alone trial’.
The Court of Appeal in Brisbane this week unanimously set aside six dangerous drug convictions – including drug trafficking – imposed against Phaedra Joy Barrett, 48, by a Maroochydore District Court judge more than a year ago.
The court – comprising Justices Anthe Philippides, Philip McMurdo and David Boddice – found Ms Barrett had been denied a fair trial because key evidence was not given to a judge until she was sentenced.
District Court Judge Glen Cash on 12 April last year found Ms Barrett guilty on one count of trafficking a dangerous drug, two counts of producing a dangerous drug, one count of possessing property obtained from trafficking, one count of possessing a thing used in connection with trafficking in a dangerous drug, and one count of possessing a thing used in connection with producing a dangerous drug.
Almost a month later, Judge Cash sentenced Ms Barrett, who pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a dangerous drug, to two years’ imprisonment.
During her trial, the court was told Ms Barrett had been operating a legal business called ‘Get High’ and sold synthetic cannabinoids in 2012.
The prosecution alleged Ms Barrett was aware her products were deemed illegal after changes to the Drugs Misuse Act in 2013, but continued to operate her business.
The court was told that, in August 2014, police allegedly found $75,000 in cash, chemically-treated leaves and communications proving she had imported chemicals from England to her business in Caloundra.
Ms Barrett denied that she had continued trafficking and claimed that she had sold the business to a customer she had met online so she could open a vaping business.
She claimed that, when she sold her business, she still believed that the chemical composition of her products were legal because of a forensic toxicologist report she kept in a folder.
At a hearing into her appeal on 20 November last year, and on 3 June, Ms Barrett claimed she told her legal team that the report had been seized by police during a raid on her premises.
The Court of Appeal found that information was not shared with Judge Cash until after Ms Barrett was sentenced.
They ruled Ms Barrett had been denied the opportunity to raise a potential mistake-of-fact defence and this had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
“(Ms Barrett) was sentenced upon the basis that she did hold a mistaken belief on the faith of this report,” the court said in its16-page written decision.
“She is thereby in the position of having been sentenced upon findings that could have led to her being acquitted on these charges, had all of these findings been made before the verdicts.
“Whilst the availability of such a defence would ultimately depend on the evidence led at trial, a fair trial, according to law, required (Ms Barrett) be afforded the opportunity to raise that defence, if appropriate, having regard to all of the evidence and appropriate legal advice.
“However, a retrial should be ordered, rather than this Court ordering that she be acquitted.”
A date has yet to be set for the retrial.