The long running legal saga of Ms Roseanne Beckett came to a close last week when she was awarded $2.3 million by the Supreme Court of NSW for a malicious prosecution that led to her serving over 10 years in prison – see the full judgement from the Supreme Court of NSW. Most of the of the charges of which she was found guilty were quashed on appeal in 2001.
What happened after Ms Beckett’s charges were appealed?
Following the appeal in 2001, the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions decided not to pursue these charges further. This meant that Ms Beckett did not need to face trial again, but had the side effect that she could not sue for malicious prosecution because there was no finding of ‘not guilty’.
Extending the Presumption of Innocence
Ms Beckett challenged this in the High Court in Beckett v New South Wales  HCA 17, and the common law principle which prevented a person from suing for a malicious prosecution unless they had been acquitted or found not-guilty was overruled.
The Institute wrote a case summary of this decision and argued that this effectively extended the presumption of innocence to those who successfully appeal a conviction, but did not have the opportunity to receive a finding of not-guilty.
To establish that a prosecution is malicious is very difficult even without the additional requirement of having to be found not guilty.
What is a malicious prosecution?
The ABC’s Law Report interviewed investigative journalist Wendy Bacon who has reported on Ms Beckett’s case for many years. She summarises the test for proving a malicious prosecution at 8:00 in the podcast:
- A person must establish that the prosecutors acted maliciously, which means to use the legal system for an improper purpose, and;
- That the prosecutor did not have an honest belief at all, or there was no objective reasonable belief, that the person was guilty.
Wendy Bacon’s website has a comprehensive collection of articles which record the history of the case, and Rosanne’s efforts to seek compensation for malicious prosecution. The full podcast can be downloaded or listen to on ABC RN’s Law Report page about the story.
At Paragraph 123 of the judgment, Harrison J provides a list of elements the were required to be proven:
- For a plaintiff to succeed in an action for damages for malicious prosecution the plaintiff must establish:
- that proceedings of the kind to which the tort applies (generally, as in this case, criminal proceedings) were initiated against a plaintiff by a defendant;
- that the proceedings terminated in favour of that plaintiff;
- that the defendant, in initiating or maintaining the proceedings acted maliciously; and
- that the defendant acted without reasonable and probable cause.
Comprehension Questions for Beckett v State of NSW 
1. Read the notes at the top of the judgment in Beckett v State of NSW  and record the following:
a) The court that decided the case
b) The name of the judge who decided the case
c) The main catchwords for this case
d) The parties in the case
2. Listen to the ABC RN’s Law Report podcast about this case and answer the following:
a) Who won the case?
b) Who was Detective Peter Thomas?
c) What is a malicious prosecution?
d) What was the result of Ms Beckett’s case for malicious prosecution?
Beckett v State of NSW  NSWSC 1017.
Beckett v NSW  HCA 17.
ABC RN Law Report, ‘Compensation Awarded for Malicious Prosecution‘, 25/08/2015.
Wendy Bacon, ‘Roseanne Beckett and The Long Walk to Justice,’ New Matilda, 30 August 2015.
Amy Dale and AAP, ‘Roseanne Beckett awarded $2.3 million for wrongful conviction over soliciting murder of husband’, The Daily Telegraph, 24 August 2015.
AAP, ‘Roseanne Beckett wins $2.3m for malicious prosecution after 26 years’, The Guardian, 24 August 2015.