10th April 2020

In a damming unanimous decision, the charges against Cardinal George Pell, prosecuted or perhaps persecuted by Victoria Police were quashed. The seven to zero finding by the High Court is as absolute as it can be.

There are striking similarities to the embarrassment VicPol suffered at the hands of the High Court over the Lawyer X scandal. Both were deeply wounding to Victoria Police credibility, and both avoidable if proper police practices and sound legal advice had been followed.

VicPol had failed to successfully prosecute Pell on a number of occasions even going to the extreme and questionable practice of touting for victims. This whole scenario is now looking very much like a vendetta rather than good policing.

The case presented by VicPol was deeply flawed and should never have gone to Court, missing a very crucial and critical component, an absolute lack of any corroboration of the complainant’s claims.

The High Court ruled the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt clearly was not met in the Pell matter. The other case of equal embarrassment to VicPol is the Lawyer X scandal which elicited a serious rebuke from the High Court and a major and damming indictment of the Police administration’s lack of good judgement. That is being examined by a Royal Commission, as the Pell case must now also be examined and those responsible exposed.

In the mid-1800’s Sir John Dalberg-Acton, 8th Baronet was credited with the saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This idiom seems to aptly fit the performance of the Police Administration of recent history where they seem to operate above or despite the law.

The unsuccessful Pell prosecution will have accrued a multi-million dollar bill, and now that Pell will be entitled to claim his legal costs it will put this bill into the stratosphere and to that, you can add a substantial settlement yet to be determined. Money that should have been used to ensure that operational police were properly equipped and which may explain why some of the vehicles currently in the operational police fleet are well past their prime, overtime budgets are slashed, and members uniforms in many cases look shabby and ill-fitting.

There are also many former Police members who can attest to experiencing the same treatment as Pell. A common practice developed within VicPol using the legal system to punish anybody they felt needed to be kept in check. Referred to as Judicial Personnel Management, cases were regularly pursued against police members to force them out of Policing, for all manner of things, including some that could only be described as trivial.

The object of the legal action seems to have been to put the target through the process; a conviction was a bonus; it was the process that they knew would destroy the target.

Unfortunately, the depth and breadth of this practice are buried because the victims who sought legal redress and in most cases successfully so, settled cases on condition of confidentiality, of not only the financial aspect but all the evidence or lack thereof. The confidentiality of the facts of the case had no other function than to protect the hierarchy of Victoria Police from embarrassment and perhaps accountability.

The George Pell saga was a corollary of the Judicial Personnel Management scheme on steroids.

This result we will hope is serious enough to have the process of Judicial Personnel Management outlawed as the insidious and unconscionable process it is. Police must now accept some accountability where cases that are severely flawed are proceeded with.

For five years, The Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA) has continually demanded an independent inquiry into the maladministration of Victoria Police, and we are heartened by sectors of the media starting to echo our calls. We detect that noise getting louder.

We believe that the media noise will grow to a degree where the Government will be forced to act. However, waiting that long will only cause greater pain for the Government.

In our view, there should be criminal charges bought against a number of senior serving and former Police executives. However, beyond that, there will be the “Teflon brigade” who will need to be dealt with by the new Commissioner.

There are also many executives whose inactions are as damming as the actions of the coterie core, and must also be held to account. This inaction is as culpable as the action by the miscreants and a breach of the sworn duty of a police member.

In 2019 we saw a spike in the suicides of serving Police Members, but unfortunately, the death toll of recently retired members forced out by Judicial Personnel Management remains an enigma.

That spike of its own should have alerted the Government of the magnitude of maladministration and the urgent need for a review of Police administration.

As we fast approach a time when a new Chief Commissioner is to be appointed, we implore the Government to appoint somebody that is not indebted to the coterie that steered VicPol into these morasses and has the strength of character and skill to rid VicPol of the responsible coterie, permanently.

This is the shocking legacy that will be left by Chief Commissioner Ashton and will reverberate for years to come.

The performance of VicPol in the notable legal failures, and the deaths of so many Police members at their own hand, should be justification enough, but when you add the financial aspects of these actions wasting millions upon millions of dollars and a less than laudatory performance of managing the State’s crime, an inquiry is now overdue.

Lack of sound action at this time will leave the Government in a precarious position where a real danger exists for the development of a police force that is increasingly unaccountable to the Law and the State.

We are not as far from that point as many would imagine.