Laura Larner secured an acquittal for Sandra Catron after a successful submission of "no case to answer" at the close of the case for the Crown. Ms Catron was facing an indictment containing eight counts of uttering false documents, but at the close of the prosecution case, Swift J accepted the submissions made by Ms Larner that the Crown had failed to establish that the documents in question were "false" documents.
These documents were completion certificates in respect of an online paralegal course, which was accredited by the Institute of Paralegals in the UK and run by Ms Catron. The Government had sponsored students to take the course through the Nation Building Fund. Ms Catron was asked by the Government to produce these certificates as part of what they said was an assessment of whether the course provided value for money.
The email correspondence relating to the request for and the submission of the certificates indicated that the documents had been created, for the legitimate purpose of being distributed to those students who successfully completed the course, before they were requested by the Government. The Judge noted that the certificates were never unilaterally offered by Ms Catron and were submitted only at the request of the Government. Ms Catron had advised the Government staff making the request that she had printed, but not distributed, the certificates in advance of the end date of the course.
The relevant definition of a false document under the Penal Code is that, in order to be false, a document must purport to be something that it is not. Case law on the point from England and Wales, relating to the analogous offence under the law of that jurisdiction, made clear that this means that in order to be false a document must "tell a lie about itself". Swift J stated that such a document must have been created by someone intending to defraud or deceive. It was emphasised that fraud in the use of a document must not be confused with fraud in its creation. In this case, the Judge held, there was no evidence that the certificates were false when they were created and that therefore they did not tell lies about themselves. In these circumstances, the Crown had failed to prove an essential element of the offences, namely that the documents were false, and the jury were directed to return "not guilty" verdicts on all counts.
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