Territory Stories

Annual Report 2017-2018 OmbudsmanNT



Annual Report 2017-2018 OmbudsmanNT

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Tabled paper 934


Tabled Papers for 13th Assembly 2016 - 2020; Tabled Papers; ParliamentNT






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67 Again departing from the final view expressed by NT Police, I considered that the use of the vehicle in a manner that struck the complainant was a use of force as defined in the relevant General Order and that there was evidence to support a finding of breach of discipline in terms of failure to obey a lawful direction, instruction or order, including general orders and instructions (section 76(d)). In considering what action should be taken in respect of wrongful conduct by a police officer, it is important to consider all the circumstances of the case and the relevant background of the officer. In fleeing at full speed from three officers over a sealed road and a sealed car park, the complainant created a situation where he and the pursuing officers were placed at risk. Even if someone was not struck by a vehicle, the complainant was likely to be tackled on a hard surface, probably resulting in some injury to himself and pursuing police. It is open to speculation whether the injury he would have suffered in that event would have been any less severe than the injury incurred in his collision with the police vehicle. Officer A was faced with an immediate operational decision. It is accepted that he thought he was doing the right thing by trying to assist his colleagues in the re-apprehension of the complainant. However, in my assessment, he decided to embark on a highly unusual and risky course of action in a situation where there was no suggestion that the fleeing offender presented a high risk to the public. The outcome of Officer As actions could have been far graver. The actions he took presented a real risk of serious injury to the complainant and potentially to others who might have found themselves in the path of the vehicle. In the final outcome, even allowing for the speed at which the situation developed, I considered that the risks taken by Officer A exceeded what was justifiable in the circumstances. He put himself and others at risk by his actions. Ultimately, he collided with the complainant. I characterised his failing as an error of judgement but a substantial one. The wording of section 76 of the PAA makes it clear that breaches of discipline are not restricted to deliberate wrongdoing. As noted above, it includes negligent and careless acts. There is clearly scope for dealing with breaches of a minor nature under section 14C or by other personnel measures. However, there will be negligent, careless or reckless conduct that is serious enough to warrant action under Part IV. In the circumstances, I would have recommended that proceedings be commenced under that Part on the basis that the conduct of Officer A was serious enough to warrant them. The sanctions that were available under section 14C would still have been available under Part IV but there would have been a wider array of options open to the prescribed officer considering the matter. However, for reasons discussed below, by the time the matter was finalised, that option was not open. Investigation process and recommendations The complaint of excessive force was referred to Police Standards Command (PSC) for investigation as a Category 1 complaint. Investigations had already been commenced by NT Police on the basis of a Serious Custody Incident declaration. On receipt of an initial report, my Office raised a number of issues with the conduct of the investigation. Without further reference to my Office, Managerial Guidance under section 14C of the PAA was given to Officer A. An assurance was subsequently given by PSC to my staff that an extension of time for the commencement of disciplinary proceedings under Part IV of the PAA would be obtained. However, there was no extension within the time allowed. Considerable further discussion, investigation and analysis was subsequently undertaken and reports provided. Advice was also obtained by NT Police from Senior Counsel on a number of issues. Copies of the various reports and the legal advice were provided to my Office. The protracted timeframe for finalisation of this matter was unnecessary and highly regrettable. That issue and a number of other ancillary matters regarding investigations have been pursued separately.

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