Court looks at legal issues in Bell case

Tim Dornin
·2-min read

South Australia's Director of Public Prosecutions is defending the right of the state's corruption watchdog to come straight to his office with the fruits of any investigations rather than go through police.

In a case that could impact on a number of other investigations conducted by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, DPP Martin Hinton has argued the commissioner can discharge the duties of the office without explicit power for each and every function.

"You do not need a power to walk across to the director's office and say here is the product of an investigation," Mr Hinton told the Supreme Court on Monday.

The argument related directly to the case against independent MP Troy Bell who is defending 20 theft and dishonesty charges related to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

District Court Judge Liesl Chapman recently criticised how his case was investigated, including the decision by the ICAC to refer it straight to the DPP and bypass police.

However, Judge Chapman stopped short of agreeing to a defence application for a permanent stay of proceedings based on those issues and ruled the case could proceed to trial.

Bell is now appealing that decision in the Supreme Court which will also answer the questions of law related to the general powers of the corruption commissioner.

That includes deciding whether ICAC investigators can continue to provide support to the DPP after handing over the case, which also happened in the Bell matter.

Those questions of law have wider implications with Mr Hinton previously telling the District Court that 11 cases either already before the courts or with his office were "in a state of paralysis" because of the issues raised in the Bell prosecution.

In his argument on Monday, Mr Hinton cited previous court rulings which said there was no real difference between the DPP and police.

He said there were also cases where the director would file prosecutions "in his own name" without the involvement of police.

The charges against Bell cover a period before he entered state parliament when he worked as an independent provider of educational programs.

Prosecutors have accused him of overcharging and falsifying invoices, accounts and meeting minutes.

He has consistently denied the allegations and vowed to defend the charges.

As the member for Mt Gambier, Bell was first elected as a Liberal in 2014 but quit the party after his arrest in August 2017.

He was returned to parliament at the 2018 state election after contesting the poll as an independent.

The argument on the questions of law and Bell's appeal was continuing.