Ex-judge quits Palm death review
Tony Koch
28th December 2006

RETIRED judge Pat Shanahan yesterday stepped down from the two-man panel formed last week to review the decision not to lay charges against a policeman in the Palm Island death-in-custody case amid an escalating conflict-of-interest row.

The Australian revealed on Tuesday that Mr Shanahan, 76, a former District Court chief judge, was on the three-person panel that in 1999 selected Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare, whose decision not to lay charges against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004 prompted the review.

The revelation sparked outrage among Doomadgee's family, who accused Mr Shanahan of a conflict of interest. Mr Shanahan refused to comment publicly on the claims, but he advised Attorney-General Kerry Shine yesterday that he had "decided after an examination of all factors ... that I will not be proceeding with the review".

Solicitor-General Conrad Lohe will find a replacement to work alongside barrister Peter Davis, who had been appointed with Mr Shanahan to conduct the review and report back to the Government by early February.

But Premier Peter Beattie continued to stand by the decision to appoint Mr Shanahan.

"We did not see a conflict in appointing former judge Shanahan, who had 26 years on the bench and was one of the best-regarded judges in Queensland," Mr Beattie said.

"What he has done is to re-examine the decision he made, and that gives some indication of his integrity.

"This is a very important issue, not just in terms of the criminal justice system in this state and how it is perceived nationally.

"It is important that we get another independent person to do the review."

Doomadgee died in Palm

Island's police cell after being arrested by Sergeant Hurley for swearing. An autopsy found he had suffered four broken ribs and his liver was cleaved in two.

At a subsequent inquest, Deputy Coroner Christine Clements found actions by Sergeant Hurley were responsible for Doomadgee's death.

But Ms Clare, after examining material from the inquest and new evidence that has yet to be disclosed, announced two weeks ago that there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

Her decision brought outrage from Aboriginal leaders, who organised statewide protest marches, after which Mr Shine sought the Palm Island files from Ms Clare and announced a week ago that her decision would be subject to an independent review.

Opposition justice spokesman Mark McArdle blamed the Government for the latest controversy and said Mr Shanahan should not have been put in such an "embarrassing position".

"A simple background check by Mr Shine would have revealed that Mr Shanahan had been professionally associated with DPP Leanne Clare in the past and would have saved Mr Shanahan and his family considerable embarrassment that this sorry saga has caused," Mr McArdle said.

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman yesterday said it was "absurd" for Mr Shine to have asserted that Mr Shanahan would be reviewing the file and decision, and not pass comment on Ms Clare or her role.

Mr O'Gorman maintained his call for the case to be reviewed by an interstate DPP.