The Government’s proposed laws governing police pursuits have been undermined by advice from one of Perth’s top QCs suggesting they do nothing to increase legal protection for officers.
The advice by Mark Trowell QC comes as the latest twist in the Government’s fraught attempts to introduce the laws, called for by the WA Police Union under threat of industrial action.
The Government passed the laws in the Lower House last week despite warnings from Labor that they reversed the onus of proof, forcing officers accused of dangerous driving to prove their own innocence.
The new legislation offers a defence to dangerous driving charges provided the accused officer “satisfies the court” they were on official duty, driving within police guidelines and it was in the public interest to be driving in such a manner.
Police Union president George Tilbury dismissed the warnings from Labor MP John Quigley last week after seeking further legal advice, accusing the shadow attorney general of “outrageous political grandstanding”.
Mr Tilbury said the union was happy for the laws to progress to the Upper House unchanged.
But this morning, shadow police minister Michelle Roberts, brandishing the advice from Mr Trowell, said the union had now changed its position and wanted Labor to amend the laws in the Upper House.
The advice of Mr Trowell, who was vice president of the WA Liberal Party in the 1980s, is that the legislation “reverses the onus of proof”, describing the purported increased protection as “illusory”.
“(The legislation) appears on the face of it to offer more protection to police officers charged with reckless or dangerous driving when acting in the execution of their duty. It does not,” Mr Trowell wrote in a letter to Mrs Roberts.
“It is difficult to see what, if anything (it) achieves.”
Mrs Roberts said if the Government agreed to Labor’s amendment – to delete the words “if the accused satisfies the court” – the Bill could be sent back down for the Lower House to ratify “in five minutes” today.
Today is the last sitting day of the Lower House until after the March election, but Mrs Roberts said Labor was “more than ready, willing and able” to return for a special sitting of Parliament during summer to pass the amended Bill.
Despite Labor not voting against the Bill or amending it in the Lower House last week when it had the chance, Mrs Roberts blamed Police Minister Liza Harvey for the protracted saga.
“The Government has been all over the shop, they have got an inexperienced and incompetent Minister who just repeats the same thing over and over again, who isn’t fully briefed on her legislation and took no heed of our concerns,” she said.
“Well it seems that our concerns were very valid, we now have a prominent QC who says that the Government’s amendments offer no further protection for police officers.”
Mr Quigley, a former Police Union lawyer of 27 years, said he was not seeking an apology from Mr Tilbury over last week’s criticism.
“What we’re concerned with here is proper public policy, not John Quigley’s ego,” he said.
“This amendment will switch the onus of proof back to where it has always been, and where it should be, for the DPP to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and not for a pursuit driver to have to prove his innocence on the balance of probabilities.”
Premier Colin Barnett accused the Opposition of putting the passage of the legislation at risk, but did not rule out considering the amendment.“I think it is a precarious thing for the Opposition to do. If they amend that legislation, they will be responsible if it is not law before Christmas,” he said, ruling out recalling Parliament during the summer break.