The ‘Prasad Direction’ was a power previously available to a Judge, allowing them to give direction to a jury that they are able to bring back a verdict of not guilty at any time, without having to hear any more evidence of a case.
This power was exercised if the Judge was satisfied that the evidence is “insufficiently cogent to justify a guilty verdict”, in an attempt to save court resources and time.
In March 2019, the Victorian DPP appealed a Prasad direction to the High Court after a woman was acquitted of the murder of her de facto partner.
A woman had killed her partner by striking him in the back of the head with a footstool. The deceased had a long 25-year history of domestic violence towards the accused, and the question became whether the act was done in self-defence. The woman’s defence sought a Prasad direction, which succeeded at the end of the cross-examination period.
After an appeal to the Victorian Court of Appeal failed, the DPP secured special leave to the High Court. The appeal was not of the acquittal itself, but of the validity of the Prasad direction as a modern instrument of law.
The High Court unanimously upheld the appeal, deciding that the Prasad direction is contrary to law and should not be administered to a Jury determining a criminal trial.
The High Court reasoned that the discretionary power of the Judge to decide whether the evidence is “sufficiently cogent to secure a guilty verdict” is in direct conflict with the role of the jury. The court held that if the evidence is even slightly capable of producing a guilty verdict, the case must be heard to its end and the role of deciding a verdict of guilty or not guilty must remain with the jury after deliberation.
As a result, the Prasad direction is no longer a valid instrument of law.