Monday, December 17, 2007


Five current reports below

That wishy-washy NT judge again

No jail for man who had sex with girl, 13. Once again, abuse of young black girls is fine, apparently. Amazing that a "blame the woman" defence was believed and accepted. See more of judge Martin's deplorable sentencing history here

A MAN who got a 13-year-old girl pregnant in a remote Northern Territory community has escaped a jail sentence. The 22-year-old man has been publicly "flogged" and shunned by his East Arnhem Land community and family for having sex with the teen, the NT Supreme Court heard this month. In sentencing the man, Chief Justice Brian Martin told the court the man's "public arrest amounted to great shame" for him and he had been publicly punished by his brothers in front of relatives. "As the principal of the community education centre has explained, this punishment by your own family has been given so that the other family will not be so sad," Chief Justice Martin said.

The court heard the girl "kept asking" the man to have sex with her, and despite resisting initially, they had sex earlier this year. The girl became pregnant and the pregnancy was terminated. Chief Justice Martin said this was "not a case" of an "older, intelligent man seeking out a young child for the purposes of sex". He said the man, who did not drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, spoke little English and was "unsophisticated". "This is a case of a young uneducated man, unsophisticated in terms of the modern world, who has reached the age of 22 without getting into trouble and being a respected, young member of a very remote community. This young man ... gave into the temptation at the urging of the young girl."

Chief Justice Martin said the case had put him "in a very difficult position". He sentenced the man to a 13-month suspended jail term, on the condition that he lived at an outstation with his aunties.


Police coverups in South Australia. No surprises there

POLICE are being accused of "excessive secrecy" for taking a year to release sparse details of individual cases of serious misconduct by officers. Details of the 29 officers' cases, proved before the Police Disciplinary Tribunal, are contained in a written response to an Opposition question asked in November last year. It reveals little extra detail to the brief summary provided in police annual reports, further intensifying pressure for greater scrutiny of police misconduct.

The data included officers found guilty on two occasions of "improperly obtaining benefit or advantage" and, in six instances, of breaching "confidentiality of information". The 2005-06 details show misconduct charges were withdrawn against five officers because they either had resigned or had retired.

Opposition Upper House leader and police spokesman David Ridgway yesterday accused police of "excessive secrecy" for taking so long to provide the details and not publishing it in annual reports. "I'd like to know why police think the hearings need to be kept secret," Mr Ridgway said. "The legislation is something we would look at. We are prepared to have a debate about the need for greater transparency and the public's right to know about what happens in these hearings." He said legislation should be reviewed to determine if hearings could be more open but with mechanisms to keep certain matters confidential if required.

Police say they are satisfied with the current arrangements and there is "scope" for some members of the public, with an interest in the case, to attend tribunal hearings. Hearings for serious professional misconduct are held in secret before a police disciplinary tribunal, unlike hearings for such professions as lawyers, doctors and teachers, which are open to the public. The tribunal, governed by the Police (Complaints and Disciplinary Proceedings) Act, hears cases referred by the Police Complaints Authority. The tribunal is chaired by a senior magistrate and, by law, must operate in strict secrecy.

Police Association president Peter Alexander yesterday said the tribunal always had been "treated differently because of the nature of the issues raised". He said the association had an "open mind" about a push for greater transparency. "If Parliament wants to examine the processes of the police employment tribunal and the issues out of that, such as onus of proof and not beyond reasonable doubt, then that's fine," Mr Alexander said. "We are prepared to discuss this with the Opposition and the Government. We would welcome a public debate about what is appropriate and what is not."

Police Minister Paul Holloway's spokesman, Owen Brown, yesterday said answering part of the Opposition's question involved a large amount of administrative work. The Government was "constrained by the Police Act on how much information it could provide". "The Police Act was supported on a bipartisan basis under the previous Liberal government," he said. The tribunal hearings required an element of confidentiality because matters related to breaches of the code of conduct, rather than criminality. "There are legitimate reasons to have a level of confidentiality because no officers have broken any laws, they have just been charged with disciplinary breaches, which are still independently examined by a magistrate," Mr Brown said.

A spokeswoman for Police Commissioner Mal Hyde, in an emailed statement, said: "The Commissioner is satisfied with the current legislation, which does have scope for members of the public to be present."

The individual case details supplied to The Advertiser were contained in a written response by Mr Holloway to a question in Parliament from Opposition Upper House MP Rob Lucas. On November 15 last year, Mr Lucas asked Mr Holloway to provide details of the 29 cases found proved and five where officers resigned or retired, before the Police Disciplinary Tribunal last financial year. Mr Lucas yesterday said he only received the written reply on November 13 - almost one year later.


Bureaucratic feuds harm children

POLICE and child safety officers Queensland's far north are accused of engaging in "inter-agency politics" that harm children. The claim was made in the final report of a team reviewing the Department of Child Safety's case management of the 10-year-old girl in Aurukun at the centre of last week's rape sentencing controversy.

In a December 14 letter to Premier Anna Bligh, obtained by The Courier-Mail, Crime and Misconduct Commission head Robert Needham said the review team had found no evidence to support claims made to it by a Cairns detective, Sergeant David Harold, that Government ministers had ordered child safety workers not to report abuse cases to police. But it had made findings "reflecting on the apparent poor relationship between (DOCS) officers and police at the local level".

He said the review team - whose work was supervised by the CMC - found that "on the balance of probability there is a level of 'inter-agency politics' which is harmful to the best interests of children". "It would appear that these politics include the department's response to input from other agencies and officers of other agencies attempting to 'ambush' the department," he said.

Mr Needham said the review had also found that departmental officers had failed to comply with legislation, policy and procedural frameworks when managing the Aurukun girl's case.

The case hit the headlines early last week when it was revealed that none of the nine males who pleaded guilty to raping the girl in Aurukun in early 2006 had been given jail terms. Ms Bligh sought input from the CMC on Friday after reports in some media that Government ministers were involved in a cover-up of child abuse cases in the state's far north. She said the December 2006 review report recommendations had dealt with the need for improved relations between police and child safety officers. "Those have been implemented and as I understand it they are operating much better than they used to," she said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who met Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory at the weekend, said he continued to support the Commonwealth's controversial intervention program there. But he ruled out its extension to other states until the effectiveness of the measures - which included the Commonwealth's takeover of Aboriginal lands - had been assessed.

Meanwhile, new figures released to The Courier-Mail show that, contrary to some media reports, Cape York sexual abuse cases recorded by DOCS do not number in the hundreds. Data from 2006-07 for the Cape Torres office, which services a population of about 20,000 in 18 remote indigenous communities, showed there were a total of 564 notifications of abuse - including 208 for neglect, 170 for emotional abuse, 122 for physical abuse and 52 for sexual abuse. Of the 564 reports, 96 were proven. Five sexual abuse cases were substantiated


Child abuse: Who cares? Nothing urgent about that!

Or so it seems

A COMMISSION set up in the wake of some horrific cases of child neglect and deaths in New South Wales has begun and ended already, adjourned after only a couple of hours until February. At the commission's first public hearing today, retired judge James Wood said the inquiry would focus on the management structure of the child protection system in NSW and would not provide any findings about individual cases.

But he said the terms of reference for the inquiry were wide enough to investigate the child protection system in NSW, including the Department of Community Services (DOCS). "The terms of reference are exceedingly wide and encompass virtually every aspect of the child protection system, including the arrangements for early intervention and for responding to child abuse and neglect, inter-agency cooperation, out of home care and the role of courts and the oversight agencies," Mr Wood said.

The inquiry was announced by the NSW Government in November after a spate of deaths involving children known to DOCS, such as that of two-year-old Dean Shillingsworth. The little boy was allegedly killed on October 11, six days before his body was discovered inside a suitcase in a Sydney pond. His mother has been charged with his murder.

Mr Wood called for public submissions to the inquiry, saying it could be a unique opportunity to examine the troubled system. "This may be the one and only chance to do something in this critical area," he said. He adjourned the hearings until February, saying he expected to hold the first public forums then.


Cowardly Cowdery finally confronted

NSW Chief prosecutor Nicholas Cowdery is not mentioned by name below but his obstructive attitude to crime prosecutions has long been notorious

FRUSTRATED police will today launch an unprecedented campaign to force the Director of Public Prosecutions to end plea bargaining which they claim favours criminals rather than victims. The Daily Telegraph can reveal police are threatening to ban court work for the DPP unless the Government puts an end to "sleazy" backroom plea deals between lawyers. Police prosecutors will be directed to abandon an informal agreement whereby police cover for DPP solicitors in pre-trial court mentions. And as a last resort police will also refuse to refer hundreds of indictable offences to the DPP office - and take the prosecutions on themselves - to protect victims and their families from being "ripped off" by the backroom plea bargains.

The campaign, led by the NSW Police Association which represents 15,000 officers, comes after a spate of court sentences imposed on police killers and attackers. Two men were last week sentenced to seven years jail over the killing of Constable Glenn McEnallay under a backroom deal between lawyers that had the men plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder.

The campaign will begin today with workplace meetings in all police stations across NSW. Police cars will also fly blue-ribbons to alert the public to their plight. It is believed a review has the informal backing of Police Minister David Campbell.

The deals are often used by the DPP in order to secure convictions in cases which may not clear cut. However, police claim the deals had gotten "out of control" and victims were now being ignored by the DPP under a system that rewarded conviction rates at the expense of justice. Police prosecutors have admitted to already keeping back some less serious indictable offences in the local court to prevent the charges being lowered by the DPP in the higher District Court.

"NSW police officers are demanding a full review of the plea bargaining system with a view to fundamental reform to end the culture of backroom deals between lawyers at the expense of victims and their families," Police Association president Bob Pritchard said. "It is not just the treatment of those who attacked or killed police officers that concerns us. "It is that hundreds of hours of preparation and investigative work by officers in a range of other cases that is being traded away in sleazy backroom deals."

Police officers will also be selected to lobby their local MPs to push for an official review of the system. The association has also said it would direct police prosecutors to stop appearing in court mentions on behalf of the DPP, as a last resort. This means the DPP solicitors would have to work longer hours, appearing in court for every stage of proceedings, with police refusing to cover for them. And it wouldn't stop there.

There is a mandatory requirement all serious indictable offences such as murder and rape be referred by police to the DPP. However, police prosecutors have discretion in less serious indictable offences. And it is these, they claim, they will refuse to refer to the DPP if a review is not undertaken by Attorney General John Hatzistergos. The Police Association claimed it "no longer trusted" the DPP to act in the best interests of victims.


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