Judge leaves Palm Island review

Cosima Marriner
December 28, 2006

A RETIRED judge will stand down from a review of the decision not to charge a police officer over the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island.

The Queensland Government last Friday appointed a former chief judge, Pat Shanahan, to review the legal file in an attempt to quell public outrage over the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, not to charge Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the death of Mr Doomadgee in 2004. However, Mr Shanahan's impartiality was called into question by revelations he was one of a three-person panel which unanimously recommended Ms Clare be made DPP in 2000.

Amid growing calls for him to step aside, Mr Shanahan rang the Attorney-General, Kerry Shine, yesterday morning to say: "I have decided after an examination of all factors to inform you that I will not be proceeding with the review."

The Doomadgee family's solicitor welcomed Mr Shanahan's decision. "There was widespread concern … that the whole review process would have been undermined whatever the result," Frederic Cassis said. "[In 2000] he was endorsing the competency of Leanne Clare, which is the whole reason the [Palm Island] review was necessary."

Mr Shine denied that he or Mr Beattie had pressured Mr Shanahan. "What I told him was I had confidence in him … if he wanted to stay on it would have been with our support," Mr Shine said. "His decision … was his entirely."

Mr Shine has now asked Queensland's Crown Solicitor, Conrad Lohe, to find a replacement for Mr Shanahan as quickly as possible.

Mr Beattie said Mr Shanahan would have conducted the review "objectively and fairly", but admitted: "From the Government's point of view it's better that we have a person who is appointed by the Crown Solicitor without any of that controversy."

Mr Cassis renewed calls for a former High Court judge to head the review. "This is a matter of enormous public interest. It needs to be taken out of Queensland," he said. "That way no one can have cause to complain about the process and the result."

A Brisbane lawyer, Peter Davis, will assist whoever undertakes the review, which the Government wants completed by the time Parliament resumes on February 6.

The Doomadgee family has also spurned Mr Beattie's offer to fly them to Brisbane for a thorough briefing from Ms Clare on the additional evidence which influenced her decision not to charge Senior Sergeant Hurley. Ms Clare's decision was at odds with the coroner's finding that the policeman was responsible for Mr Doomadgee's death.

"If there's additional evidence, make it public," Mr Cassis said. Mr Doomadgee's death sparked riots on Palm Island in 2004. Locals are determined to seek justice through the courts.

Ms Clare remains convinced her decision is correct. "There is no evidence to prosecute," she said last week.

The shadow attorney-general, Mark McArdle, said Mr Shine had made a "complete mess" of the Doomadgee matter.