Monday, March 14, 2011
Media Release: Criminal Lawyers’ Association of WA, 14 March 2011
There has been a recent spate of trials where defendants on charges of obstructing police, resisting arrest and assaulting police have either been acquitted, had their charges withdrawn or convictions overturned due to footage of the incident being available. Those cases have included Kevin Spratt, the Walker family and, more recently, Penelope Challice.
In each of these cases the footage of the alleged offending has actually cast serious doubts over the version given by police witnesses either in their written statements, their testimony at the trial or the factual summary of the alleged offence that was prepared for the court. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association has grave concerns about the frequency in which this is occurring.
Logically, such footage ought to strengthen a prosecution case as it should be an independent account of what has been alleged by police. That observation, however, is not sustainable when the footage shows that the allegations are not an accurate account of what actually took place.
When footage of the particular incidents do nothing to enhance the prosecution case but in fact actually undermines the credibility of the accounts given by the police officers involved, questions must be asked as to:
(a) why were these people charged in the first place;
(b) why the accounts given by police are almost always consistent with each other but totally at odds with the footage; and
(c) whether charges were laid to cover up misconduct by the police themselves?
Of course, footage is not always available and it then becomes a case of the account given by police officers and that given by the defendant. Often a court will be inclined to favour the version given by police as against that of a defendant, particularly when that person is affected by alcohol. But as the above cases demonstrate the police version may not necessarily be the correct one.
Ironically it was the use of “lipstick” cameras by police in the Challice case that played a part in the defendant being acquitted of assaulting a police officer. Yet it has been reported that police officers have been banned from using such cameras since December last year. Apparently there are logistics, resources and costs associated with the continued use of these devices (see p.59 of the Weekend West, 12-13 March 2011).
If they are the problems then at the very least those police officers who have plainly given evidence in the past that contradicts what the footage shows, and who have not given a satisfactory explanation for those contradictions, should be compelled by the Commissioner of Police to wear these devices when apprehending members of the public. That would guarantee that they would exercise more care in giving an accurate account of what had taken place.
President of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association
Francis Burt Chambers
Direct line: (08) 9220 0464
Mobile: 0434 353 249