NT coroner could step aside over Rolfe

·3-min read

Lawyers for a Northern Territory policeman who shot dead an Indigenous teenager during an outback arrest say the coroner at his inquest may have to step down.

Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker died after Constable Zachary Rolfe shot him three times during an arrest attempt in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs on November 9, 2019.

The inquest in Alice Springs into his death is exploring 54 issues related to his life and the actions of police before and after he was shot, including the quality of the department's coronal investigation.

NT police shared a full version of its coronial investigation report with the coroner but denied other parties access to some of it, including Const Rolfe's lawyers.

David Edwardson KC says if that continues coroner Elisabeth Armitage may have to disqualify herself because she has seen redacted information in the report.

He said that could impact her impartiality when discharging her duty, which includes considering if the police coronial investigation was fair.

"It could not be said the redacted portions, given the significance of the headings and the topics that are being discussed, do not bear very significantly on a clear issue Your Honour has to consider," " Mr Edwardson said on Friday.

"As long as the Proctor report remains in its redacted form and the defence do not have access to it and the coroners court has then the situation is untenable."

He said the NT Police Force had "a very considered and serious decision" to make.

"If, as they currently do, maintain the claim for legal professional privilege, and acting on the assumption that the mere provision of the unredacted report to the coroner does not amount to waiver, then the question of disqualification must necessarily arise."

Mr Edwardson said he believed the force had waived its right to confidentiality when it shared the full report with the coroner.

The court also heard submissions on Const Rolfe's legal team's objections to some of the issues the coroner planned to explore and evidence to be heard.

These include Const Rolfe's honesty when he applied to join the NT Police Force and whether drugs or illicit drugs impacted his conduct on the night of the shooting.

The coroner also planned to probe Const Rolfe's use of force, disciplinary proceedings against him and whether racism was a problem within the department.

Mr Edwardson said doing so was outside the coroner's scope and could undermine the jury's verdict, which found Const Rolfe not guilty in March of murdering Mr Walker following a five-week trial.

"The challenged categories of evidence are red herrings. They have all the hallmarks of a roving royal commission," the barrister said.

"With all the goodwill in the world, the introduction of this evidence is so remote and removed that it will, we suggest, demonise Zachary Rolfe, which is particularly offensive."

He said the coroner should respect the Supreme Court jury's decision and not canvas the issues.

"Might we add that Zachary Rolfe gave evidence when he did not have to and was cross-examined by senior counsel for two days," he said.

"All of that evidence will be before this court."

Counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer repeated her robust criticisms of Mr Rolfe's lawyers for lodging objections four days before the inquest was scheduled to start despite.

She said months of planning was now in ruin and many witnesses scheduled to give evidence, including Mr Walker's family, police officers and medical staff from remote communities, had been inconvenienced.

"No explanation has been provided to this court as to why that was done," she said.

"No apology has been made to this court for the enormous imposition."

The hearing will continue on Monday with more submissions on the issues.