The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) has conveyed to me that as a result of evidence heard at the committal hearing, and information contained in submissions from the legal representatives of those charged, they considered that there were no longer reasonable prospects of the fraud charges relating to the Logan councillors being successfully prosecuted.
For these reasons, the prosecutor discontinued the prosecutions in the Brisbane Magistrates Court today.
I said on 26 April 2019 when speaking publicly after the CCC charged the eight individuals with fraud, that the court is the appropriate place to hear the evidence and decide the merits of the allegations investigated by the CCC. It is the role of the independent ODPP to prosecute criminal matters, not the CCC, and for this reason the CCC accepts the decision of the ODPP to discontinue the prosecutions.
The former mayor still faces other criminal offences resulting from CCC investigations. These matters remain before the court.
The Crime and Corruption Commission is established by law and exists to combat and reduce the incidence of major crime and to continuously improve the integrity of, and to reduce the incidence of corruption in the public sector. This includes the local government sector. When the CCC receives allegations of corruption involving the public sector and elected officials, it assesses these allegations to determine whether an investigation is warranted. Section 33 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 outlines the CCC has a function to investigate conduct liable to allow, encourage or cause corrupt conduct, conduct connected with corrupt conduct and whether corrupt conduct may have happened, may be happening or may happen. Conducting investigations into allegations of corruption is a legitimate and lawful activity of the CCC.
It is important to note the law says the CCC has a function to investigate conduct connected with corrupt conduct and to investigate whether corrupt conduct may have happened.
There has been some criticism levelled at the CCC for charging these individuals, and questions raised as to the validity, legitimacy and propriety of the CCC’s investigation. The CCC has at all times acted within the bounds of its powers and jurisdiction when assessing the allegations, when conducting the investigation and when deciding to charge the subject officers.
The complaint came from a public interest disclosure from the then CEO of Logan City Council, who for context had a legal obligation to report allegations of corrupt conduct to the CCC. All public officials of public sector agencies have this obligation under section 38 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001. The complaint involved elected officials and was serious in nature because it alleged a reprisal had occurred. Allegations of a reprisal by elected officials against a person making a public interest disclosure are without doubt firmly in the CCC’s jurisdiction.
At the completion of the investigation, lawyers within the CCC reviewed the material gathered to assess whether the elements of a fraud offence had been met. Consistent with all CCC investigations that lead to criminal charges, a police officer seconded to the CCC reviewed the evidence to make an assessment of whether charging was warranted based on the evidence. I also reviewed the material. Consistent with the ODPP’s prosecution guidelines, based on the evidence before the CCC at the time, the CCC took the view that there were reasonable prospects of a conviction and that the charges were in the public interest.
The ODPP considered the briefs of evidence and decided to prosecute these matters, as in their view at that time, there was a prima facie case and reasonable prospect of convictions. There can be no legitimate claim or criticism that the CCC had no jurisdiction to investigate, or that it was misconceived or somehow inappropriate, to charge these individuals.
Like all people charged by law enforcement and investigative agencies with criminal offences, there are stages during the prosecution to test the evidence gathered during an investigation. This is a tenet and foundational principle of the criminal justice system. During the committal hearing in this matter, material came to light resulting in the decision to discontinue the prosecutions.
I note that there have been calls for an inquiry into the conduct of the CCC’s handling of this matter.
The facts are these. The CCC investigates allegations of corrupt conduct but does not prosecute. Once the CCC charged these eight individuals, the briefs of evidence were forwarded to the ODPP in order for them to independently assess the evidence and decide whether or not to prosecute. In these cases, they went ahead with the prosecutions and it was only when the committal proceedings in the Magistrates Court were well advanced that the charges were discontinued. The CCC, as it must, accepts the decision of the independent prosecutor in these matters.
In light of the above, it is difficult to see how it could be reasonably suggested there should be an inquiry into the CCC’s conduct.
The Queensland community expects a strong, independent agency to investigate allegations of corruption. While the CCC accepts the ODPP’s decision to discontinue these prosecutions, it will not deter this agency from investigating serious allegations of corrupt conduct, and where warranted, placing people before the courts.
Alan MacSporran QC
14 April 2021