Theatre of accountability at its finest today with Lawyer X Royal Commissioner Margaret McMurdo warning Victoria Police it could be charged with a criminal offence for refusing to produce evidence. The whole point of a royal commission, of course, is that its extraordinary powers make all relevant witnesses quake in fear at what may befall them if they persist in any kind of recalcitrancy or legerdemain. If, in other words, they get cute. But some people aren’t so easily frightened; some people truly are above the law.
Victoria Police could be charged with a criminal offence after admitting on Tuesday it had not given the Lawyer X royal commission more than 1000 documents about a former drug squad detective once charged over a double murder.
The documents relate to notorious ex-detective Paul Dale, who was about to questioned for the fourth day by the inquiry into the police’s use of informers, and should have been tendered to a commission supposed to shed light on one of the Victoria Police’s darkest chapters.
For VicPol, Justin Hannebery QC told the Commission that material relating to Dale was voluminous and his client had decided that much of it was – for all intents and purposes – none of Justice McMurdo’s business. Not surprisingly, this didn’t please the commissioner:
“Can I suggest to you and those instructing you, remind your clients [Victoria Police] that this notice to produce, and their obligations under it, which are ongoing, that it is an offence not to comply with it and an agency of the crown, under the inquiries act, can be charged,” Ms McMurdo said.
But just when you think police officers might be held to the same strict standards as you and me or that they might be perp-walked in cuffs for criminal contempt or perverting the course of justice …
Under the state’s Inquiries Act, failing to produce documents without a reasonable excuse or refusal to comply can carry a maximum two years in jail.
The royal commission said if a charge was laid, it would go to Victoria Police as the “state agency” and would be served on the Chief Commissioner’s office, but Commissioner Graham Ashton would not be personally charged.
Imagine how much more cooperative VicPol would be if the notice to produce was a buck that stopped at the commissioner’s own desk.
As things stand, however, at law it seems that regardless of what happens on his watch, Archbishop Ashton is untouchable.
UPDATE: D’oh. Did I write “Archbishop Ashton”? I meant Commissioner Ashton.