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Hunt for truth

Friday, 26th July, 2013

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) is to formally request that police investigate the conduct of three officers to see if they had committed any criminal offences against a young man in Broken Hill.

This follows the dismissal in the Local Court yesterday of an application by the ALS to have police pay the costs of its failed prosecution of Jayden Turley.

Mr Turley (23) was charged with assaulting police at the police station after he was arrested in Argent Street on December 15 last year for offensive language.

But at a Local Court hearing in May it was revealed that each of the police officers (who were in the city on secondment from Parkes) had made the exact same typographical error in their written statements to the court, despite their swearing that they had not compared accounts of the incident.

Earlier this month, Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy dismissed the case against Mr Turley.

The ALS had also argued that closed circuit television footage of the incident disproved the officers’ account of having been assaulted.

When police were forced to withdraw the charges, the ALS was able to argue that the prosecution had started proceedings against Mr Turley without a reasonable case and that costs should therefore be awarded to the ALS.

But yesterday Mr Dunlevy ruled that the Criminal Procedure Act did not allow a law firm which provides a free legal service to recoup professional costs incurred in defending an accused person in criminal proceedings. 

Stephen Lawrence, the spokesman for the Aboriginal Legal Service’s Western Zone headquarters in Dubbo, told the BDT that the ruling had turned on a technical legal issue.

“The Magistrate applied the law as he interpreted it, which is his duty as a judicial officer,” Mr Lawrence said. 

“The ALS made submissions on a complex and technical legal issue which were not accepted, as sometimes occurs to parties in litigation. 

“The ALS is now considering the ruling.” 

The evidence in the case was that the written statements of all three police witnesses contained the same ‘typo’, being ‘what’s your THE problem?’.  

“The fact is police enjoy a privileged position in the legal system, because their written statements become evidence in court without the need for them to give oral evidence in chief,” Mr Lawrence said. 

“This means that when police improperly ‘scrum down’ and ‘cut and paste’ their statements they directly undermine the integrity of the court process. “Unfortunately, this type of behaviour by NSW police is all too common and generally only exposed in rare circumstances.” 

Mr Lawrence said this was not the first time that ALS lawyers had succeeded in “exposing such conduct” in western NSW. 

“The CCTV footage of the incident itself that was tendered in the court proceedings speaks for itself,” he said. 

“The footage is disturbing. It is also concerning that Mr Turley’s ordeal began with an arrest for a trivial allegation of offensive language. 

“The ALS will be making a complaint on behalf of Mr Turley to police professional standards, requesting an investigation into whether any criminal offence was committed by police against Mr Turley.

“One would hope police are independently already reviewing the matter. We will also be referring Mr Turley for civil action.” 

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