Monday, April 06, 2009

Australia: Another crime-friendly Director of Public Prosecutions -- this time in Western Australia

The NSW DPP is notorious. Prosecutors are bureaucrats and bureaucrats don't try hard. They just want an easy life

THE State's prosecution lawyers have been accused of downgrading, downplaying and interfering in serious criminal charges, undermining the justice system.

[Police prosecutors] have presented their allegations to the WA Police Union, saying they have been driven to raise ``concern and dissent'' because of the number of ``correctly laid'' charges downgraded to lesser crimes by lawyers from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution in recent months. The police prosecutors say offences are being downplayed and then sent from higher courts to magistrates courts where penalties are lighter. This is happening without the knowledge of victims.

In a document prepared for their union and obtained by The Sunday Times, police prosecutors claim DPP prosecutors ``are interfering in the autonomy of charging officers by amending correctly laid charges''. The police officers say the Office of the DPP is meeting the needs of an overburdened District Court, ``rather than representing the interest of the victim and the community they are supposed to represent''.

The union yesterday called for a parliamentary inquiry and the Opposition demanded a review of all indictable cases from the last year. Union president Mike Dean said he was appalled. ``It's deceiving the courts and interfering with justice,'' he said. Opposition police spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said last night: ``If the (Office of the) DPP is deflating the seriousness of offences so they are more likely to get a guilty plea, then it seriously undermines the justice system.'' Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan has also called for a report from his senior court prosecution staff.

In their complaint police prosecutors have highlighted several cases in which they claim charges have been downgraded: A charge of possession with intent to sell and supply 200 dexamphetamine tablets (40g), reduced to a simple possession and sent back to a magistrates court. In a theft case a $60,000 boat was amended to a $9999 dinghy. This meant the matter could be dealt with in a lower court because the value was under $10,000, but the owner of the stolen property could not recoup his money. Other charges reduced included:

* Sell and supply 6.85g of amphetamine reduced to possession.

* Sell and supply 4.53g of amphetamine reduced to possession.

* Stealing a motor vehicle and reckless driving sent to magistrates because department prosecutors did not think it was serious.

* Aggravated burglary and stealing charges reduced to trespass and stealing.

* Stealing with violence reduced to assault and stealing.

* Aggravated burglary and assault reduced to trespass and assault.

A spokeswoman for the Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock said: ``This office would not be a party to misleading a magistrate about an offence or the true value of property. "These issues are not as clear or straightforward as they appear. The boat matter had been brought to his (Mr Cock's) attention and he has asked police prosecution to provide details. He has still not received the details.''

The document states one police prosecutor ``vehemently opposed'' a change so much that the DPP prosecutor returned to the office and laid a complaint.

There are about 80 police prosecutors who say they are now being forced to handle the same complex matters dealt with by DPP prosecutors in the District and Supreme courts. They say they will become overburdened, with indictable matters being amended by DPP prosecutors and sent back to magistrates courts. They also believe the police service will be put at risk of legal action by victims of crime who believe they have not been fairly represented.

Opposition police spokeswoman and former National Crime Authority lawyer Margaret Quirk said: ``The Government needs to audit all indictable cases from the last 12 months to see how widespread the problem is. ``Hopefully, it is not happening on a wide scale, but the indications are that it may be. ``It's extremely disturbing and little wonder that the community is somewhat disillusioned with the criminal justice system. Frustration will only grow if charges do not adequately reflect the true level of criminality of an offence.''

Ms Quirk said repeated downgrading of serious criminal charges was seriously undermining the justice system. ``This is a betrayal of community trust,'' she said.

Mr Dean said: ``These cases are designated to be dealt with by the (Office of the) DPP in the upper courts, they should not be dealt with in such a frivolous matter.'' Attorney-General Christian Porter said he would consider the report when it was made available to him.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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