CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Mr Hugh Fraser, QC,
Acting President,
Queensland Bar Association

Integrity of Queensland's Judicial System: A Horse that Bolted Long Ago

Unfortunately your reported recent warning about compromising the integrity of a key component of Queensland's judicial system seems to be years too late.

My interpretation of an article in which you were quoted: Hugh Fraser QC, acting president of Bar Association, has accused the State Government of harming the integrity of Director of Public Prosecutions' (DPP's) office by ordering a review of the DPP's decision in the Palm Island death-in-custody case (Giles D. and Dibben K., 'Review harms integrity of DPP', Sunday Mail, 24/12/06).

Queensland's system of public administration and justice have long been compromised by political interference.

Politicization has eroded the professional competence and credibility of Public Service officials (see The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service) - and the latter document lists similar published allegations about the judicial system. The fact is that (in the Ombudsman's opinion) legislation enacted under the Goss Government made it unnecessary to seriously consider professional competence in making 'senior' Public Service appointments - an action that also completely dispensed with the concept of natural justice - and since then there has apparently been bipartisan political support for such abuses of power.

In the case of the Public Service the effect of losing knowledge and skills, and of the creation of virtually unworkable (ie overly complex) machinery of government, has been dysfunctional public administration and crises in many areas (eg see Queensland's Challenge: A 2006 Report Card). The crisis that beset the health system appeared to be an example (see Intended Submission to Health System Royal Commission).

The apparently unsatisfactory way in which a death in custody on Palm Island was dealt with (which has now resulted in pressure for a potentially damaging review of a DPP decision) needs to be considered in the same light - ie as a possible consequence of long term political abuse of the professional competence of the judicial system. There seems to be no shortage of indications that reform of Queensland's law enforcement and judicial system has long been desirable (see Reform of Queensland Institutions - or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?).

It can be noted that some observers suggested a 'racist' interpretation of the Palm Island case, eg that it mainly reflects long term public and official indifference to the plight of aboriginal peoples. For example:

Palm Island exposes a government and public indifference to indigenous affairs in Queensland (Williams P. 'The great divide', Courier Mail, 23-24/12/06).

Indigenous community understandably rejected Premier's attempt to explain DPP's decision not to lay charges over Mulrunji's death in custody despite the coroner's finding that this was caused by a policeman. Coronial recommendations are often not acted upon in Queensland. The indigenous community's distrust follows from the fact that imprisonment rate for aborigines is 13 times greater than for others - a problem that has been increasing (Bagaric M. 'Shutting the revolving door', Courier Mail, 22/12/06).

The finding by Queensland's DPP regarding Mulrunji Doomadgee's death was that it was the result of a complicated fall. It was complicated by decades of judicial injustice, a powerful police union, an unsympathetic public, and a state government that wants to matter to disappear. The coroner found that the fall was also complicated by a few blows by an arresting officer after Doomadgee had first hit him. The scales of justice are only balanced for people who have a white skin (Hoper C., 'Islanders versed in injustice', Australian, 21/12/06).

[Added January 2007: Every aspect of the case related to the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee features the bad treatment of indigenous peoples. No one has ever been tried for the death of an indigenous person in custody - though there have been 147 cases since 1990. [1] ]

However public and official indifference is unlikely to be the main problem because:


John Craig