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Case Notes from the High Court – Coughlan

High Court overturns decisions of the Jury and Queensland Court of Appeal in the case matter of COUGHLAN v The Queen [2020] HCA 15. Find out more from Butler’s Principal Nambour Solicitor Peter Boyce.

I read with interest that there is another decision that has been handed down by the High Court where decisions of the Jury and the Queensland Court of Appeal have been overturned.

That case is the matter of COUGHLAN v The Queen [2020] HCA 15.

The relevant issue in this case was that the High Court held that the evidence presented, as part of a circumstantial case, against the Appellant for arson and attempted fraud, lacked the capacity for it to be open to the Jury to be satisfied of the Appellant’s guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”.

The Prosecution had failed to exclude the possibility that the destruction of the Appellant’s house (which was the subject of the arson charge) was caused by an electrical fire and so it was not open for the Jury to convict. That was the unanimous decision of five High Court Judges.

This is yet another example of how the High Court works, overseeing each State’s Court of Appeal rulings.

Authored by Butler McDermott Lawyers Principal Nambour Solicitor, Peter Boyce

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Peter Boyce


Peter has been practising as a Nambour Solicitor since 1977 and joined Butler McDermott Lawyers the same year.

With over 40 years practicing as a Sunshine Coast lawyer, Peter has extensive knowledge of various facets of law.

He has practised in all areas of litigation and has special interests in:

  • Criminal law
  • Civil and Commercial litigation
  • Retirement Village matters
  • Sports law
  • Resumption of land and compensation claims


Peter has specialised knowledge of and experience with resumption matters as a result of the Traveston Dam project, road corridors, Main Roads and water pipeline. He is renowned for his professional approach and is an experienced and determined advocate.

Brent King


Brent works as a litigation lawyer, providing litigation legal advice in relation to both civil and criminal law matters, including:
  • Defamation Claims
  • Contract and Debt Disputes
  • Building and Construction Disputes
  • Planning Matters
  • Criminal Law and Traffic Legal Matters
Having grown up on the Sunshine Coast and joining Butler McDermott after the completion of his studies, Brent appreciates the needs of our clients, and brings a particularly commercial approach to litigation. Brent is a member of the Queensland Law Society and the Sunshine Coast Law Association, and has litigated a wide variety of matters in the Magistrates, District and Supreme Courts.

Al Upton


After arriving at Butler McDermott Lawyers in 2016, Al quickly progressed to running our Wills and Estates section and has successfully litigated disputes in the Supreme and District Courts of Queensland in the early stages of his career.

In the years that followed Al has now moved to assist our clients with commercial and property matters having achieved positive outcomes in that area as well as general litigation. Al’s experience has him uniquely placed to provide quality advice in the areas of property, commercial, wills and estates and general litigation.

Al is involved in giving back to the community, sitting on the board for the Daniel Morcombe Foundation and Sundale Community Foundation. He otherwise became a director of Butler McDermott Lawyers in November 2021.