Fraud cases are often long, complex and fill carton upon carton with documents. But at the heart of every fraud case is one simple question. Was the accused person dishonest? That is what the prosecution must prove, and they must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
This type of case is sometimes referred to as “white collar crime”. A fine defence lawyer had this to say about about the phrase:
“I’ve long despised the characterization “white collar crime,” as it perpetuates the misguided belief that it’s just a big misunderstanding to be worked out like gentlemen over tea at the [prosecutor’s] office. A prosecution for “white collar crime” is just as brutal as any other crime, except it usually involves a lot more paper. A sentence for a “white collar crime” is just as horrible as a sentence for any other crime, except it’s more likely to be served in a camp than supermax, though you can’t always count on that either. And few people who perceive themselves as non-criminals are well suited to any incarceration, regardless of ambience.”
There are many ways in which the prosecution can establish a charge of fraud. In most cases, it is enough if the prosecution can prove that the accused person:
a) obtained something for themselves, and
b) did so dishonestly.
To prove that the accused person acted dishonestly the prosecution must prove, firstly, that what was done was dishonest by the standards of ordinary honest people and, secondly, that the accused person realised that what he or she did was dishonest by those standards.
The maximum penalty for the ordinary offence of fraud is 5 years imprisonment. However, that increases to 12 years if:
- the offender is a director of a corporation and defrauds the corporation;
- the offender defrauds their employer;
- the property involved was held by the offender on trust; or
- the value of the property is more than $30,000.00.
Until recently, a person charged with fraud in Queensland had an absolute right to choose to be tried by a jury. In 2010 the Attorney-General in the Bligh government, Cameron Dick, introduced legislation that took away the right to a jury trial in most cases of fraud, where the value of the property involved is less than $30,000. The legislation was passed in the middle of a federal election campaign, with little public attention. Most people did not realise they were losing an important constitutional right. A person may now be branded a fraudster without ever facing a jury of their peers.