King & Wood Mallesons succeeds in overturning Gene Gibson’s conviction for manslaughter

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King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) represented Gene Gibson, an indigenous Pintupi man, on a landmark pro-bono case in Western Australia that saw his conviction for manslaughter unanimously overturned in the Western Australian Court of Appeal.   

In August 2012, Gene Gibson was sentenced to serve seven and a half years in prison for the manslaughter of Joshua Warneke in Broome 2010.   

Gene is a young, cognitively impaired man from the Aboriginal community of Kiwirrkurra in the Gibson desert, the most remote community in Australia. Gene's native language is not English and he has no ability to read or write. Nonetheless, Gene was extensively interviewed in 2012 by the WA Police without an interpreter, in a manner which a judge of the Supreme Court found to be unlawful.

As matters transpired, Gene pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Not because he was guilty, but because he believed that he only had two choices: plead not guilty to murder and go to prison for a long time, possibly for life; or plead guilty to manslaughter and go to prison for a short time. It is no surprise that faced with this choice, Gene pleaded guilty to manslaughter.  

In June 2016, KWM filed an appeal with the Western Australian Court of Appeal. Following a four day hearing in April 2017, a decision to unanimously overturn Gene's conviction, enter a judgment of acquittal, and allow for Gene's immediate release from prison was handed down.   

The appeal was led by commercial litigation partner Michael Lundberg, supported by a team of solicitors including Debra Osborn, Alexandra Pieniazek and Adam Rompotis, and assisted by legal secretary Nadia Mobilia.

Commenting on the appeal, Michael said: "Our firm is proud of the ongoing contribution that we make to the community, as part of our KWM in the Community program, and our commitment to reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities which led to the firm's Reconciliation Action Plan. The firm is especially proud to have secured this result for Gene, and that as part of our commitment to justice we were able to use our skills and resources to obtain justice for this vulnerable and disadvantaged young man." 

The KWM Perth office worked with barristers Sam Vandongen SC and Alexander Mossop from the Western Australian Bar. Sam was recently recognised for his pro bono contributions, particularly acting as lead counsel for Gene Gibson, and was awarded the 2017 Attorney General's Community Service Law Award.