Qld calls for review of Palm Island case

Annabel Stafford, Canberra
December 23, 2006

IN THE face of public pressure, the Queensland Government has asked for a review of a controversial decision not to press charges against a policeman over the death of a Palm Island man.

Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine has asked for a second opinion on the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision not to charge Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the 2004 death of Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Mr Shine yesterday overrode the DPP, Leanne Clare, who less than 24 hours earlier had publicly defended her decision.

Ms Clare released a terse statement late yesterday saying she had briefed the Attorney-General on the case and had then sent him her file at his request.

She did not comment on the the Attorney-General's decision, but reiterated her view that "there is no evidence to prosecute".

Mr Shine will refer the file to the Crown Solicitor, who will nominate an independent reviewer, probably a retired judge, to scrutinise it.

He hopes to have a report for Parliament in early February.

Mr Shine said the only way he could satisfy himself that the correct decision was made was to send it for review.

Labor Party president Warren Mundine welcomed the move, saying that while the Government had performed a "backflip … it's a good backflip".

But the Bar Association of Queensland said the decision "could cause serious damage to the system of criminal justice in Queensland if the director's decisions are to be second-guessed".

Last week Ms Clare sparked outrage when she decided not to charge Senior Sergeant Hurley over the death of Mr Doomadgee, saying the evidence did not prove his guilt.

Her decision was at odds with an earlier coronial finding that Senior Sergeant Hurley had hit Mr Doomadgee a number of times, causing his fatal injuries.

According to autopsies detailed in the Coroner's report, Mr Doomadgee died on the floor of the Palm Island watchhouse with four broken ribs, a liver almost "cleaved in two" and with a least 1½ litres of blood in his abdominal cavity.

The controversy over Ms Clare's decision might never have arisen had it not been for a change to Queensland's laws in 2003. The changes meant that the Coroner could no longer recommend criminal charges, but was required instead to refer the decision to the DPP.

Mr Shine said it was "pure speculation" to say whether Senior Sergeant Hurley would have faced charges had the coroner still been able to recommend them. That was because the 2003 changes also meant the coroner could hear evidence that she would not have previously heard.

Earlier in the week, Premier Peter Beattie announced that future deaths in custody would be treated as suspicious and subject to special rules following the Coroner's finding that the investigation into Mr Doomadgee's death had been "deficient".

Frederic Cassis, the director of the Errol Wyles Justice Foundation for equal legal treatment, said an independent review had to be conducted outside Queensland by a former High Court judge who was "free from any kind of influence".

And he called for any further evidence gathered by the DPP to be made public.

With AAP