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High Court refuses application to test Queensland choking laws

Australia’s highest court has refused a special leave application by a man attempting to test 2016 Queensland domestic violence laws making non-lethal strangulation a standalone criminal offence.

The High Court of Australia, in a recently published decision, refused a man identified only as ‘HBZ’ leave to appeal the validity of a Queensland Court of Appeal decision in February.

HBZ was convicted after a trial in the Townsville District Court and sentenced in June 2019 to 2½ years’ jail, suspended after 15 months in custody, for choking his partner in a domestic violence setting and common assault.

The court was told HBZ, then aged 34, choked his mother-of-five partner during a “70 second” violent attack in which she could not breathe and later pleaded with him to call an ambulance when she experienced continued breathing difficulties at her home on 8 July 2018.

The jury was told HBZ attacked his partner, the mother of one of his children, when she tried to call the triple-zero emergency service in response to his cruel treatment of his own dog after it urinated on the floor.

HBZ in February appealed his conviction and sentence in Queensland’s Court of Appeal on the grounds the trial judge erred in the direction given to the jury on the definition of choking, was deprived of a fair trial and that the jury verdicts were unreasonable and could not be supported by the evidence.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Justices Philip McMurdo, Debra Mullins and David Boddice, unanimously dismissed HBZ’s appeal against the sentence and increased his sentence by removing the early suspension of the term after 15 months’ detention.

HBZ is the first person to attempt a High Court challenge on changes to Section 315A of the Queensland Criminal Code in May 2016, which made the offence of choking, suffocating or strangulation in a domestic setting a standalone criminal offence.

The laws were introduced following a recommendation made by Queensland’s Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland in its ‘Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an end to domestic and violence’ report.

Last Wednesday (11 November), lawyers for HBZ mounted an application for special leave in the High Court to appeal the Court of Appeal ruling.

HCA Justices Pat Keane AC and Virginia Bell AC refused HBZ’s application.

Justice Bell said: “In our view, there are insufficient prospects that the outcome of any appeal to this Court would be successful to warrant the grant of special leave. Special leave is refused.’’

Read the Queensland Court of Appeal decision and the High Court of Australia special leave decision transcript.

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