R v Wright

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Citation: R v Wright [1999] VSCA 145.

This information can be found in the textbook [1] pp 273-275


Background Facts

  • Wright and Watson were 17 years old and asked a friend to buy them alcohol. They drank a quarter over 1.5 hours, stole a van, and Wright lost control after attempting a car trick and smashed into a tree.
  • Watson died and Wright did not have a driver’s license, but was driving between 97 and 100 km per hour.
  • He pleaded guilty to theft but not to culpable driving causing death - the latter involves ‘gross’ negligence.
  • Wright was sentenced to two years and nine months imprisonment with two years suspended - he appealed against the conviction. He applied for leave to appeal against the sentence and, shortly before the appeal was heard, he applied for leave to add a new ground of appeal in saying that the trial judge erred when directing the jury regarding gross negligence.

Legal issues


Callaway J:

  • His honour refuses to grant leave. He acknowledges the charge of negligence and claims every person must take reasonable care to avoid injuring others.
  • Because it is a criminal case (Criminal Negligence), the departure from the standard of care has to be ‘gross’.
    • 'To prove criminal negligence...the Crown must prove not merely that the accused failed to exercise reasonable care for hte safety of others, but that departure from the standard of care owed was such that it deserves to be called a gross departure from that standard[2]
  • The original judge directed the jury by to reference Andrews v DPP [3] which looked at a medical practitioner and identified a distinction between criminal and civil negligence - if it was civil negligence, the degree of negligence is irrelevant, in contrast to criminal negligence.


  1. Prue Vines, Law and Justice in Australia: Foundations of the Legal System, (2nd ed, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 2009).
  2. textbook p274
  3. [1973] AC 576
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