DPP has talked herself out of a job

IF Leanne Clare believes her own statements about the independence of the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions and her handling of the Mulrunji Doomadgee case, she will draft a brief letter of resignation and make a hasty exit.
It is not logically possible to reconcile the decision yesterday of Queensland's Attorney-General Kerry Shine to have the case reviewed, with Mrs Clare's earlier view that such a step would constitute a fundamental assault on her independence.

If she stays on as DPP she will be going along with a course of action that she had, just hours earlier, viewed as unwarranted and untenable. She cannot be fiercely independent and hopelessly compromised on the same issue at the same time.

In three public statements in as many days this week - from Premier Peter Beattie on Wednesday, Clare on Thursday and Shine yesterday - the unravelling of the DPP's credibility and authority is painfully clear. 

Statement 1 came from Beattie as he was being heckled on Palm Island by locals venting their anger at Clare's decision not to prosecute Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over Doomadgee's death. Beattie gave Clare a clear cue about what she should do next when he said: "I would be very happy if the director of the DPP sought a review in another jurisdiction. But that is a decision for her to make."

Beattie, whose claims to respect the DPP's independence were trashed a few months ago when he described her proposal to have rogue surgeon Jayant Patel voluntarily returned to face justice as "corrupt and sleazy", must have believed that Clare would respond to his cue and pledge a review of her Hurley decision.

But statement 2 came from Clare, who responded the following afternoon in a media release, headed "No review of Hurley Matter", in which she said that instigating an external review would pose "a fundamental issue about the independence of the Office of the DPP".

Clare added: "The proper exercise of the independent statutory function of the DPP should not be overridden by another agency. No one in my office could prosecute this case regardless of any position adopted by an external review."

Clare would not be bowing to Beattie or the public clamour. There has been no stronger public repudiation by a senior public servant of the Queensland Premier.

But at about the same time Clare's office was transmitting by email her defiant statement on Thursday afternoon, Shine (who replaced Linda Lavarch as attorney-general after she was caught out concealing the truth about the Patel proposal) received from his DPP an "unexpected offer": the file on the Palm Island matter.

We can only imagine the dialogue when the AG and his DPP met on Thursday night to discuss this offer and weigh the legal dimensions of a death in custody that was becoming politically damaging.

Without a hint of irony, Shine issued statement 3 yesterday morning, commending Clare for offering him the Palm Island file.

"Once I have received the file I will refer it to the Crown Solicitor to commission an independent review of the material provided by the DPP, in the public interest," Shine said.

While Clare's position looks untenable, Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe could be forgiven for feeling sheepish. Just two days ago, he provided written legal advice to Beattie which begins: "I should say at the outset that I am not aware of anything which might lead me to think that the decision-making process employed by the DPP in considering whether to charge any person with a criminal offence in connection with the death of Mulrunji, or the decision not to ask for criminal charges itself, was wrong or unjustified."