Supreme Court throws out Colbert appeal

Unanimous finding see SA judges agree with original reasoning

Supreme Court throws out Colbert appeal
None of the appeal arguments were met favourably in court


The South Australian Supreme Court has rejected trucking company owner Peter Colbert’s endangering life and manslaughter sentencing appeal.

The three judges sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal, in findings released recently, rejected unanimously the Colbert Transport boss’ contentions that:

  • his 12-year sentence was excessive
  • the sentencing judge failed to place adequate weight on his physical and mental health issues
  • the sentencing judge erred in placing excessive weight on his 1996 convictions for rape.

The maximum penalty for endangering life is 15 years and for manslaughter it is life imprisonment.

Colbert was sentenced to five years for the former and nine years for the latter, with a non-parole period of eight years and 11 months further reduced by 18 months to account for time spent in custody and on home detention bail.

On the health issues, the judges agreed that while they were not mentioned in sentencing, this was "not of great significance in the scheme of things" and it can be assumed that the judge’s reference to a psychological report on Colbert meant it was part of considerations.

The psychologist’s tentative diagnosis was that Colbert, who showed little if any remorse over the fatality, "met the diagnostic criteria for a narcissistic personality disorder with paranoid traits".

This manifested itself, when he refused to get the brakes of the truck fixed, in "a misplaced sense of arrogance and self-confidence, while minimising the concerns of others".

This was born out in his ignoring reports from three drivers of faulty brakes on the truck before loss of braking caused it to crash fatally for another driver.

The appeal court finds that the sentencing judge’s regard for the rape convictions was relevant to the appellant’s prospects of rehabilitation.

"Those convictions were also relevant in depriving the appellant of any claim of good character that might have otherwise have entitled him to a greater degree of leniency," the finding reads.

While the appeal court judges acknowledged that there were few comparable cases to draw on when reviewing the sentence.

They did note the decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in Lawler v The Queen in 2007, where a motorist was killed and the truck driver found guilty of manslaughter and two counts of causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving.

That truck driver faced an effective sentence of 10 years and eight months with a non-parole period of eight years for manslaughter and two years and 18 months for the two dangerous driving offences, the sentences to be served concurrently.

An appeal contending manifest excess in the sentences imposed was dismissed, with the court noting the high degree of criminality in the defendant’s conduct, and the importance of general deterrence.

The SA judges note the language used by judges in that case: "Heavily laden vehicles compete daily with non-commercial traffic on busy roads.

"The consequences of driving an unsafe heavy vehicle can be horrendous as is demonstrated by the mass destruction in this case.

"The sentence should plainly indicate to an operator of a heavy vehicle that safety cannot be sacrificed for financial reasons."

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