THE LAW SOCIETY of NSW has condemned state Opposition plans to establish a Director of Public Prosecutions oversight committee, arguing it is an unwarranted and dangerous political intrusion into the role and functions of an independent office.
The oversight committee proposed by Shadow Attorney General Andrew Tink is the result of the Coalition’s “long-standing” aim to introduce a parliamentary joint committee to monitor and review the exercise of the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP’s) functions, said president of the Law Society Gordon Salier.
The Coalition also wanted to set the Office of the DPP annual budget and comment on budget management. And it wanted “the power to veto appointment of a person as Director”, Salier said.
Arguing that the Office of the DPP had initially been created to ensure that the prosecutorial decision making would be removed from any political influence, Salier told Lawyers Weekly that “really, the independence of the office should be retained to ensure a fair, open and transparent justice system”.
The ability to monitor and review the Director’s functions would enable the parliamentary committee to require the Director to explain and justify prosecution decisions. The committee would then comment on those decisions in its reports.
Salier explained that the Office of the DPP cannot be equated with bodies such as ICAC, the NSW Ombudsman or the Police Integrity Commission, despite Tink’s suggestion.
It was “quite proper” that investigatory bodies, with powers of compulsion and interrogation, and bodies that report on conduct by other government agencies, should be subject to such oversight, Salier argued. But it was “not appropriate for a prosecuting agency, which can be equated with a law firm” to do the same, he added.
“All of this runs contrary to what we say was the reason for which the office was created,” Salier said.
The DPP’s budget is currently set by an annual process involving the Attorney General and the Treasury. But potential exists for unwarranted interference with the activities of the Office of DPP by exercising control over its budgetary allocation.
The Law Society has been told that an executive board has now been established. “Apparently it has independent representation and oversees the management and administration of the office,” Salier said. This adds strength to the view that “Tink’s committee is unnecessary,” he added.