Monday, October 25, 2010

WHAAAT?? This is disgraceful!

New law means arrests for 'minor' crimes not worth the effort, say Qld. police. Another case of do-gooder legislation doing more harm than good

Hundreds of offenders could soon escape prosecution by police who say new laws will make arrests for minor crimes not worth the effort. From November 1, police will be required to present more material at an offender's first court appearance, including witness and complainant statements, pictures, CCTV footage and a list of exhibits.

Under reforms adopted by the State Government, officers who fail to fulfil the requirements face the prospect of being charged with contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months' jail.

Queensland Police Union official Tony Collins said many minor offences would be detected but not acted upon because of the threat of police themselves being charged. "How many arrests are you going to make knowing that this sword of Damocles is hanging over your head?" Senior-Sergeant Collins said.

The sort of offences likely to be ignored by police included shoplifting and break and entering where a small amount of property was involved, as well as some domestic violence incidents and minor assaults.

A senior officer, who did not want to be named, said that in the case of assaults, police would be less inclined to encourage victims to make a complaint because it would not be worth the effort. "It's not worth our while to gather all this material then put it before the courts where you get nothing," the senior officer said. "Arrests will dry up and police will start ignoring stuff, but not serious stuff."

The reforms flow from a 2008 review of Queensland's criminal justice system by former judge Martin Moynihan, now the head of the CMC. They are intended to improve disclosure by police to give the accused a better understanding of the case against them from the outset. In his report, Mr Moynihan found there was an attitude among police that it was "not their job to help the defence".

The Queensland Police Service never responded to the report and as a result Sen-Sgt Collins said they were left with laws that would see officers spending more time desk-bound.

"If Moynihan truly wanted to improve the justice system, he would've required full disclosure from both sides of the table. Instead what we've got is a card game where you have to show your opponent all your cards, and they don't have to show you anything."

The QPS would not respond to questions about the changes yesterday but Brisbane criminal defence lawyer Ken Mackenzie said they would foster an efficient justice system. "It's about disclosing (evidence) to the defence early so informed decisions can be made, and the lawyer can advise the client of the case against them and an appropriate plea," he said.

QPU president Ian Leavers said police were concerned about the implications of the reforms.


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