A patron argued in the New South Wales District Court that a hotelier was negligent by providing inadequate lighting of a passageway used by him to gain access to his accommodation. The patron tripped over pallets that had been stacked with empty beer kegs at the junction of the bottle shop driveway and passageway. The patron won but the hotelier appealed.
The patron had given evidence that he had used this particular entrance on a number of occasions and that the pallets of empty beer kegs had never been stacked in that location. He also gave evidence that the lighting in the area from all sources was poor.
The evidence of the hotelier was that the lighting in the area had been checked regularly, including on the night of the incident. The hotelier noted that it was a condition of his licence that adequate lighting be provided. The hotelier also gave evidence that the pallets had always been stacked in that location to allow access to the brewery trucks.
The Court of Appeal remarked that if the hotelier's evidence that there was adequate lighting was to be rejected by the Court at first instance, it could only be on the basis that the patron's evidence be preferred. However, there was no adverse finding as to credit. In fact, the trial Judge preferred the evidence of the hotelier on other issues, including the location of the pallets, which left the parties uncertain as to why, on the critical issue of the adequacy of the lighting, the Judge concluded that the lighting was poor.
The trial Judge had also said that he was unable to determine whether there was sufficient illumination without the benefit of expert evidence. However, as the Appeal Court pointed out, 'it was the patron who bore the burden of proving that the illumination was insufficient'. The Court of Appeal found that the Judge had reversed the burden of proof when assessing the adequacy of the lighting.
The Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. Alchin v Daley
The giving of adequate reasons lies at the heart of the judicial process; it is a fundamental aspect of the justice system that a losing party must be able to understand why he or she lost.