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Mulrunji, again

December 15th, 2006

It appears that neither criminal charges nor any kind of misconduct proceedings will arise from the death of an innocent man, Mulrunji, from injuries received in custody at Palm Island. What’s even worse, is that the Director of Public Prosecutions chose, not merely to state that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial, but to make a positive finding of accidental death, contrary to the findings of the Coroner on the same evidence. The Courier-Mail reported the decision as “overturning the findings of a two-year coronial inquest”.

As far as I can tell, the DPP has no power to do anything of the kind. Certainly, I can’t recall anything like this announcement in the past. Maybe someone with more legal background can clarify this. But even if the DPP hasn’t exceeded her powers, the statement was ill-advised and inflammatory.

As Noel Pearson points out, this isn’t the first dubious decision made by Leanne Clare, and something of a pattern seems to be emerging. If you’re on the outer with the establishment (Pauline Hanson, Di Fingleton) dubious charges will be pursued to the limit. But if you’re on the inside, things are very different. The government and the Police Force have mishandled this case from day one, and it’s unsurprising the the victim’s family feel that they have been railroaded.

And I agree with Federal Minister Mal Brough. We need a public inquiry into the whole tragic business, including the government’s handling of it.

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  1. Mike Hart
    December 15th, 2006 at 21:43 | #1

    JQ, the findings do not overturn a coronial inquiry. The coronial system is one that pre-dates DPP offices and the establishment of Coroners arose from the abuse of power in England pre modern legal systems, which is why Coroners have the powers they have to get to the truth of a matter, problem is they no longer have a prosecutory function. The problem then becomes the form of the inquiry and rules of evidence with regards to a criminal prosecution, the test being; ‘would a jury be able to convict on the basis of the evidence presented being sufficient to be beyond a reasonable doubt’. So, One, is the evidence useable in a criminal court? Two, would it be sufficient to secure a conviction with a jury? Third and the issue being alluded to by the media and Pearson, is it in the public interest? The final issue being the discretionary power of the DPP in such matters. I am unable to comment on one, two or three nor can anyone else without a close reading and scrutiny of the evidence obtained so far.

    That being said, yes the trend is disturbing, my experience of living for a number of years in FNQ brought home the meaning of racism, ‘being black meant no one cared whether you lived or died’. Saw it all the time, one of the reasons I moved back to NSW.

    Is it the end of the matter? No not at all there is absolutely nothing to stop anyone mounting a private prosecution if they feel strongly enough and act in a belief that the facts warrant such. Question is who has pockets deep enough to withstand a failed prosecution civily? OR the resources to take on the QLD Police in the courts for several years while you mounted a private prosecution. I would certainly recommend this course and damn the consequences rather than another inquiry.

  2. pseudonym (econowit)
    December 16th, 2006 at 01:10 | #2

    Welcome to Queensland, sunny one day bloody the next, where coppers can and do kick the crap out of blacks with impunity- Australia’s ‘deep south’.

  3. gordon
    December 16th, 2006 at 07:56 | #3

    From my time in Qld. many years ago I remember that the Qld. police were politically influential. Things don’t seem to have changed much.

  4. December 16th, 2006 at 09:47 | #4

    On Wednesday December 20, at midday in Queens Park, Brisbane City, there will be a rally to insist that DPP Clare be dismissed, and S/Sgt Hurley be charged.

    Queens Park is on the corner of George and Elizabeth Sts, behind the casino and across George St from Casino Towers.

  5. Shiraz Socialist
    December 16th, 2006 at 13:52 | #5

    What beats me is why Peter Beattie accepted the DPPs decision. Surely he knew there would be a public opinion backlash? Or maybe Queenslanders are different……

  6. Alan
    December 16th, 2006 at 14:24 | #6

    And if a black man had beaten a copper to death?

  7. December 16th, 2006 at 14:35 | #7

    Shiraz Socialist:

    I suspect that fear of the Police Union, and the entrenched culture of dominant police here in Qld, is what is behind Beattie’s decision.

  8. Mike Hart
    December 16th, 2006 at 14:40 | #8

    Small elucidation vis a vis the DPP. The office of the DPP has wide discretionary powers and by nature of the office is not open to instruction or overt manipulation via the legislature or the judiciary. A form of separation of powers. If you have got a dud in the job then it basically takes pressure from the legal profession itself vis a vis failed prosecution and various judicial obiter dictum in poor prosecutions, to bring about change, short of gross misconduct by the DPP, then your stuck with them for the tenure. My experience suggests DPP selection invariably is from the ranks of crown prosecutors and then occasionally from outside. There are few Ian Temby’s and see the strife that Nick Cowdery gets into in NSW attempting to stop the populist blather about crime and punishment. The job is seen as somewhat of a poisoned chalice and does not necessarily lead to a job on the bench either.

    Beattie has a significant political problem, and in the wake of the Di Fingleton matter, Doctor Death and few other blow ups, he will have to wear the flack on this matter. Should have chosen a new DPP more carefully.

    I genuinely feel for black Queenslanders, they get done at every turn, small wonder they have fallen to a state of what can only be described as auto-genocide. Despite heroic efforts by many many people black and white, apartied is alive and well in this country. You only have to see the failure by State Governments to implement in any meaningful manner the recommendations of the 1980′s Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody to see how little progress has actually been gained.

    We are now reaping the harvest of divisional racism begat by the Howard governments assimilation of Hansonism and feeling secure enough in their prejudices to revert to overtly white only type views.

  9. Paul Walter
    December 16th, 2006 at 15:12 | #9

    Am sick of this legal narrowism crap that says in affect that because we aren’t guaranteed a conviction, we won’t proceed with the case. You can smell the whiff of expediency-driven neo liberalism behind the thinking. Justice is just another business.
    And while the DPP is already and publically damned, one wonders at what forces might have contributed to such a gutless capitulation. Cannot understand why Labor politicians recently re-elected in Queensland would then affectively abort both their own reputations and the embryonic Rudd leadership proposed on, effectively , a platform presented as diametrically opposed alternative TO values-hostile Howardism; It’s idle chatter about transcendent values, “compassion”, “Christianity” and the like is now as silent as Rudd’s silence ( and Beatty’s).
    Am reminded of the corrupt betrayal of the Australian people and the Latham opposition by Paul Lennon and the forestry division of the CFMEU for Gunns, and Bracks preferencing FF in 2004.

  10. still working it out
    December 17th, 2006 at 08:56 | #10

    How much would a well run private prosecution cost? And would it really be feasible? Could you find quality lawyers willing to commit to it? As a matter of civil rights it might be an excellent way to force the issue.

  11. Mike Hart
    December 18th, 2006 at 06:54 | #11

    Still Working it Out:
    A private prosecution would basically cost nothing if you had civic minded counsel and other legal and support staff happy to do the job pro-bono. However the other side costs should be calculated on at least 1 QC or SC, 1 junior , 2 Solicitors and probably 2 support staff and at least one investigator per day, so preparation time and court time both need to be counted. (The crown would probably blow out their side with several investigators). At going rates that would be about $6000 plus $3000 plus $3000 plus $500 plus $600 or about $14,000 per day. Stage One, 1 day for mention at Magistrates court, 3 to 5 days for committal hearings. District Court trial 14 to 21 days. Appeal Court 3 to 5 days. All up with appeals and counter appeals about 31 working days. Possible cost all up $434,000, say $500,000 to mount a private prosecution. Now if you lose at final hurdle cost will be double because the tradition is the loser pays the other parties costs and as stated earlier these for the crown can be considerable. As I said you would need very deep pockets or some very civic minded lawyers to do the job but still need the money in the kitty in case you lose.

  12. derrida derider
    December 18th, 2006 at 12:59 | #12

    Having read the coroner’s report I think the decision not to prosecute is fair enough. The most crucial evidence in the coroner’s findings on would not hold up or probably even be admissible in a criminal case and even with that evidence there’s enough vagueness in what happened for Sgt Hurley to enjoy the benefit of the doubt (the coroner operates on ‘balance of probabilities’, not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’). Not to mention, of course, that it’d be a predominantly white jury in FNQ.

    But the other stuff about “it’s accidental death” was gratuitous. It was certainly accidental but was still probably manslaughter; the fact that the DPP added it does not create a lot of faith in her judgement or impartiality. Oh, and Sgt Hurley should in any case face disciplinary action for the negligent treatment after the injury.

  13. December 19th, 2006 at 05:29 | #13

    This is a terrible set back for the conservative philosophy of government, as well as for Aborigines wanting fair play. Conservatives want Aborigines to play by white man’s rules to help them get ahead or at least stay afloat in a modernizing society.

    But this episode shows that white men bend the rules when it suits them. You could hardly blame an Aboriginal for chucking the whole thing in or running amok if this is the way justice is dispensed.

    I dont suppose that the right-wing editorialists at the Australian have kicked up much of a fuss about this. But that only verifies my thesis that conservatives and right wingers are only contingently associated. Conservatives want to conserve good practice whereas right-winger only want to be on the side thats winning.

  14. Kaili
    December 19th, 2006 at 07:48 | #14

    This is a copy of the media release that will go out today asking people in Townsville to speak out:

    THIS IS NOT A BLACK ISSUE.
    THIS IS NOT A WHITE ISSUE.
    THIS IS A JUSTICE ISSUE!
    In September, Coroner Christine Clements found Snr Sgt Hurley struck Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, and caused his fatal injuries on November 19, 2004, at the police station on Palm Island
    BUT LAST WEEK…
    Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare determined last week that the evidence was not capable of proving Sen-Sgt Hurley was criminally responsible for Mulrunji’s death.
    SO WHERE LIES THE TRUTH?

    YOU ARE INVITED TO JOIN US IN A

    “A MARCH FOR JUSTICE�

    ON WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER 2006
    GATHER AT 10.15AM AT CENTRAL PARK IN THE CITY HEART…

    WE THE PEOPLE OF NORTH QLD ASK YOU

    TO JOIN US IN SOLIDARITY, TO MARCH PEACEFULLY IN

    PROTEST AGAINST THE DECISION BY THE QLD DPP
    NOT TO CHARGE

    SENIOR SERGEANT CHRIS HURLEY OVER THE DEATH IN CUSTODY OF

    MULRUNJI DOOMADGEE

    COME AND MAKE A STAND FOR JUSTICE, EQUITY AND THE TRUTH… PLEASE EXPLAIN MR BEATTIE.

  15. December 20th, 2006 at 19:41 | #15

    On my return to Queensland, following six weeks out of the country, I can only say that I thought I had stepped back into a time warp. I feel like I am living in Joh Bjelke Petersen’s Queensland. I am shocked and appalled, though not surprised.

    Peter Beattie, honest as the day is long, such a jovial bloke, is nothing short of a cheap replica of pre-Fitzgerald politicians. This decision takes our state and this country back decades into the dark racist past.

    If we can raise the money and find good lawyers we should prosecute Hurley.

    Peter Beattie is also uninterested in the matter of the needless arrest with gratuious and excessive violence of Jim Dowling, peace activist. We should not let him forget this either.

    Willy Bach

  16. December 27th, 2006 at 11:44 | #16

    Joh is back for sure!

    From “The Australian�

    “THE former judge chosen by the Beattie Government to review a decision by the state’s top prosecutor not to lay charges in the Palm Island death-in-custody case has become embroiled in a conflict-of-interest dispute after it emerged he voted to appoint Leanne Clare as Director of Public Prosecutions.�
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20974525-2702,00.html

    The Qld government and public service culture is to protect itself from accountability and transparency

    I pontificate further here
    http://paradigmoz.wordpress.com/2006/12/26/death-in-custody-update/

  17. December 27th, 2006 at 13:12 | #17

    Now the former judge has now resigned from the review (despite being re-affirmed by Beattie and the Attorney General)
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200612/s1818592.htm

    This whole process is being dealt with in crisis management mode with nothing to do with due process or natural justice

  18. Paul Walter
    December 31st, 2006 at 02:07 | #18

    And following the nonsense with Shanahan, has come a proper enquiry presided over by a nuetral…(?)
    Ha!
    Not on your nelly!
    The once-respected Beattie comes up with, instead, more self-defeating (surely!) nonsense denying that outsiders could do the job as well as Queenslanders as stupid a load of parochial claptrap as I have ever heard from any politicians, even including the mendacious Howard himself!
    Peter, please…
    If people hadn’t smelled a rat beforehand, even those with single digit iq’s will start to after this .
    Why are you doing this??!!
    You could now be perverting the course of justicee; not just the law. if a brutal crime was committed, let the evidence be presented and a court decide. What ever happened to to your anti-apartheid times, now that you have a Steve Biko-like corpse in your own backyard; the stench of which threatens to destroy both yours and Labors reputation, which was the best thing it had going for it against the real enemy, Howard. Surely even the police themselves would not seek to defend an incident, if it proved to be cowardly nd brutal?
    For chrissake, stop being like Tasmanian Premier Lennon in 2oo4, and think of the wider community and the common cause, instead.
    You state premiers are making the feds unelectable!

  19. melanie
    December 31st, 2006 at 13:02 | #19

    How hard would it be to raise half a million to run a civil prosecution for manslaughter (see #11)? I think not very hard, especially if people only had to pay up in case of a loss. Let me know who’s organizing it and I’ll chip in.

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