A-G considers reform following ‘malicious’ harassment of solicitor

A-G considers reform following ‘malicious’ harassment of solicitor

30 November -0001 By Naomi Neilson
NSW police

Following the “disgraceful” intimidation of a solicitor by police that included pulling his vehicle over for checks and issuing infringement notices, the NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said he is considering reform to strengthen protections for lawyers.

Speaking during an NSW budget estimates hearing this week, Mr Speakman said he had written to Police Commissioner Mick Fuller following the publication of a Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) report that detailed the “deliberate, deceitful and malicious harassment” of a solicitor by an anti-bikie police task force.

Mr Speakman confirmed that he is considering broadening the definition in criminal legislation that applies to interfering or intimidating a private lawyer, which could include stalking, coercion or attempting to pervert the course of justice. He added that distaste for a client, as there was in this instance, does not justify harassment.

“What occurred to that solicitor was quite reprehensible, and I’m looking at the matter further,” Mr Speakman said, adding that while he cannot interfere in disciplinary sanctions for police, “what I can do is look at the potential criminal law reform”.

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In May 2019, officers with Strike Force Raptor were frustrated that they had to appear in person to give evidence, with one sergeant accusing the solicitor of being “arrogant”. What followed was a debriefing where the sergeant told the officers to “let the solicitor know the whole of Raptor’s up here” because he “wanted Raptor”.

Despite there being insufficient evidence that the solicitor was associated in any way with the outlaw motorcycle gangs that could be identified as criminal conduct, the sergeant advised the constable and senior constable to target him. They understood this to mean stopping him and issuing him with road infringement tickets.

The first was in response to the solicitor leaving his driveway without indicating for five seconds and then again for not having his licence on him. LECC said that this first infringement notice was “malicious harassment” and was serious misconduct.  

Other harassment included driving “laps” around his office building, waiting and watching from outside his workplace and following his vehicle. After appearing at the Local Court to inform the magistrate of what was happening and to ask for an adjournment, the solicitor left the room to find “five to 10 Strike Force Raptor officers”. He said he felt so intimidated that he asked to use the magistrates’ exit.

Under current legislation, intimidating a public justice official carries a penalty of 10 years imprisonment but this official is defined as someone “employed in the investigation, detection or prosecution of offenders”. It essentially means that officers may not be held to account for the intimidation of private defence lawyers.

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In this case, Mr Fuller reprimanded the officers but did not more. Law Society president Juliana Warner said that at the very least, “one would have expected a formal apology” and a commitment to better educate police officers.

Ms Warner welcomed Mr Speakman’s comments and has called on police to understand that the integrity of the adversarial criminal justice system “relies on the conduct of all parties remaining professional”. The conduct of the three officers involved in this harassment is “totally unacceptable”, she added.

“It demonstrates a complete disregard for the rule of law and the professionalism and respect with which all parties must approach the administration of justice,” Ms Warner said. “The fact that the commissioner’s response to that behaviour appears to have been nothing more than a reprimand raises serious concerns about the extent to which the commissioner feels that police are above the law.”

Ms Warner said she would be speaking with Mr Speakman to offer the Law Society’s assistance in considering whether further law reform is needed to “spell out, in indelible terms, the limits of police powers in NSW and the severe consequences when those limits are exceeded”.

A-G considers reform following ‘malicious’ harassment of solicitor
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