TO THE untutored eye, elements of premeditation and deliberation may seem to have been present when Anu Singh, 25, self-obsessed melodrama queen and final year law student, killed her amiable Canberra partner, Joe Cinque, 26, civil engineer, in 1997.

As related by Helen Garner in Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law (Picador, 2004), the bare facts were:
In September 1997, Singh got advice on how to inject an overdose of heroin. During the night of Saturday, October 25, she put a knockout drug, Rohypnol, in Cinque’s coffee, and injected heroin into his comatose body at about 3 am but he failed to die. She went out and bought more heroin and injected him again at about 10 am. He died about 2 pm on Sunday, October 26, 1997.

Charged with murder, Singh’s defence was diminished responsibility. This is a quite recent wrinkle on their Lordships’ ruling in M’Naghten (1843) that you are not guilty if you are mad. In the 1960s, ingenious lawyers began to persuade judges that if abuse or self-abuse has made their clients a little bit mad they might only be a little bit guilty. 

Judge Burton Katz, for one, doesn’t buy it. In Justice Overruled: Unmasking the Criminal Justice System (Warner, 1997), he wrote:
“If a man commits a crime, I believe that he is responsible for his crime … He made the decision to murder. Then he murdered. He decided to rape. Then he raped. Unless we firmly re-establish that principle in our courts, our justice system will cease to have much real meaning.”

Some weird and wonderful cases — e.g. Twinkie-gorger David White, penis-slicer Lorena Bobbitt, and the sinister Menendez boys — have rather discredited the diminished responsibility defence in the US, but it did the business for Singh in 1999.

To the outraged horror of the victim’s parents, Justice Ken Crispin, sitting alone, famously intoned:  “I find the defendant not guilty of murder, but I find the defendant guilty of murder.”

Consternation. Was Crispin shooting for the World’s Most Startling Verdict? Or the S. Freud Memorial Trophy? The fabled Canberra bruiser, Jack Pappas, for Singh, briskly advised Ken that he meant manslaughter.

Recovering swiftly, Crispin said: “I withdraw that.” The usage improperly but perhaps inevitably recalled Patrick Cook’s wicked cartoon which happily relieved the tedium of The Cartel: Lawyers and Their Nine Magic Tricks [E. Whitton, Herwick, 1998]. It purported to depict Justice David Yeldham, who haunted railway lavatories in Sydney.

Crispin gave Singh 10 on the top and four on the bottom, backdated to October 26, 1997. She passed her finals in prison, and was out in October 2001.

Ms Garner’s steely eye identifies two linked and crucial issues.

First, “the ugly divide between morals and the law”. The reason the law has no moral compass, according to Justice Russell Fox’s analysis in Justice in the 21st Century (Cavendish, 2000), is that is that it is not interested in the truth.

Second, does “the moral failure of the law” give judges — and presumably practising and academic lawyers — an “icy chill”? Apparently not, otherwise they would do something about it.

Indeed, a result of the nexus between lack of truth and moral failure is that judges and trial lawyers at times effectively and knowingly pervert justice. That too is a crime, but fortunately their responsibility is diminished to zero: judges’ by rules for concealing the truth, and lawyers’ by that useful county in south-east England. 

Meanwhile, a glittering career can surely be predicted for Ms Singh. Adversarial cross-examination is the Theatre of Cruelty. Robbing a human being of his life is the cruellest thing a person can do. 

February 7, 2005

Evan Whitton on …

Joe Cinque’s death, diminished responsibility and the moral compass