The High Court has granted a retired doctor – found guilty of the 2015 murder of a well-known Brisbane socialite and currently serving life imprisonment – special leave to appeal his conviction.
Last Friday the court approved Thomas Chris Lang’s application for leave to appeal his November 2020 conviction for the stabbing murder of Maureen Boyce, whose body was found in her inner-city Kangaroo Point penthouse on the morning of 22 October 2015.
Lang, now aged 70, has repeatedly denied any involvement in Mrs Boyce’s death and asserted his former partner had taken her own life.
However, a Brisbane Supreme Court jury in November 2020 found Lang responsible for the stabbing murder of the former model and popular socialite.
It was the second time Lang had been convicted of Ms Boyce’s murder, with a jury finding him guilty to the same charge in 2017.
Lang was granted a retrial by Queensland’s Court of Appeal, but was found guilty after a fresh jury trial. He again applied to the COA in 2020 on the grounds that evidence at his trial could indicate Mrs Boyce took her own life. The COA dismissed Lang’s appeal.
As a last avenue of appeal, Lang applied for special leave from High Court Justices Michelle Gordon AC, James Edelman and Jacqueline Gleeson – sitting in Canberra – during a 45-minute video link hearing with counsel in Brisbane.
Barrister Ruth O’Gorman KC, for Lang, argued there were two reasons her client be granted special leave.
“Firstly, there is here, in our submission, the significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted of murder and will, on that basis, be serving life imprisonment,” Ms O’Gorman said.
“There is also, in our submission, an issue of law of general and public importance here, and that is the question of the circumstances in which a forensic pathologist can give an opinion that a wound causing death was more likely to have been inflicted by someone other than the deceased.
“We contend that the Court of Appeal (in dismissing Lang’s last appeal) erred in finding the guilty verdict was not unreasonable as, on the whole of the evidence, there is a reasonable possibility that the deceased, Mrs Maureen Boyce, committed suicide.
“On an appeal, we would contend that in dismissing the unreasonable verdict ground, the (COA) did not, as it should, engage with all of the circumstances to decide whether it was open for the jury to have convicted Mr Lang.
“Rather, it submitted the (COA) identified a pathway, which the jury must have followed in order to reach the position where it was satisfied that it could convict, but did not properly consider the whole of the evidence.”
Ms O’Gorman argued the COA “did not grapple” with all of the evidence – including the possibility Lang was not responsible for Ms Boyce’s death.
“There was some evidence at the trial that arguably pointed to the possibility that Mrs Boyce committed suicide, there was no direct forensic evidence to implicate (Lang) in the stabbing and there was no evidence that Mrs Boyce struggled with an attacker,’’ she said.
“A review of all the evidence does not reveal there is a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted.”
Counsel for Queensland’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Mark Green, argued there was no direct evidence Mrs Boyce was responsible for her own death.
“The only evidence about what Mrs Boyce may have been able to do was … given in only the theoretical sense, in that there was no direct evidence, obviously, as to what Mrs Boyce either did or did not do,” Mr Green said.
After a short adjournment, the High Court at 3.15pm granted Lang’s application with Justice Gordon saying: “There will be a grant of special leave in this matter.”
A date has yet to be set for the hearing.
Ms O’Gorman and Mr Green indicated no more than half a day should be required to argue their case.
Read the decision.