The IBAC have released a summary of findings (April 2020) into its inquiry about serious injuries caused by police in a bungled arrest of an innocent man. This followed a raid by the police Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) on the Hares and Hyenas bookshop on 19 May 2019.
The findings are not legally binding and do not provide a legal precedent – but they prove unsatisfactory on a number of levels.
They have been resoundingly criticised by the victim, Mr Dimopoulos, his lawyers and by Equality Australia and have met with widespread disappointment and condemnation from communities who often experience police misconduct, abuse or targeting.
Almost all investigations into police misconduct are investigated by police themselves. The flaws of that system are obvious, and are borne out by the laughably low rate at which police substantiate those complaints (9%). Flaws in Victoria’s police complaints system were laid out and addressed in a recent joint parliamentary inquiry. That inquiry recommended complaints of serious misconduct by police should be taken from police and vested in another body – IBAC.
We firmly support those recommendations. The government should act to implement them, notwithstanding the findings in Mr Dimopoulos’ matter.
However, our support is conditional on a complaints body that meets the five criteria of an effective hearing within international human rights jurisprudence; that is, independent and impartial, effective, prompt, transparent and victim centred.
Assessed against those objectives:
- IBAC has only released a summary of its findings. This is at odds with community expectations of transparency and also compares poorly to much more detailed investigative reports released by complaints bodies overseas. It difficult to assess the basis for IBAC’s decision-making on the basis of a media release. This lack of detailed information and explanation erodes understanding of – and confidence in – the findings.
- We don’t know what process IBAC undertook in its investigation. There’s a huge lack of transparency in their procedures and investigation process. A properly resourced independent investigation body should attend the scene immediately, keep police witnesses apart to avoid collusion, and conduct the investigation, including the initial interviews itself rather than rely on evidence gathered by police. It is unlikely that any of that happened in this case.
- We don’t know if the investigation was victim-centred. Mr Dimopoulos has expressed his disappointment in the absence of any findings about the police failure to identify themselves in the raid. A failure that he says was central to him fleeing what he believed was a homophobic home invasion.
- We don’t have IBAC’s legal reasoning for finding that the police use of force was ‘not disproportionate’. Many will find that conclusion hard to understand. It sits uncomfortably with IBAC’s other findings of ‘ongoing and potentially systemic issues concerning CIRT… includ(ing) use of force, training and capability around key functions, and inadequacies in CIRT’s policies and procedures’, and the use of body worn cameras. Whilst police may feel vindicated by IBAC’s findings, Victorians will feel less comfortable about an interaction with the police and the amount of force police might use against them.
Finally, there is the fundamentally unjust outcome of an innocent person subject to life-changing violence at the hands of the State. A situation that might yet be remedied by civil action in the courts.
Advocates signal alarm at report exonerating police over botched raid, Jess Malcom, The Citizen, 8 May, 2020
“Broadly in Victoria we see racialised policing and we see marginalised groups subject to more policing,” says Gregor Husper, principal lawyer with the Police Accountability Project. “Allowing police to use their discretion is really just another opportunity for police to perpetuate their prejudices against marginalised members of the community.” …
IBAC clears police of using excessive force during botched raid that broke man’s arm in Fitzroy apartment, ABC News, 16 April, 2020
Mr Dimopoulos’s lawyer Jeremy King said IBAC’s decision was “legally contradictory, it’s galling and it sets a dangerous precedent for policing in Victoria”. “For IBAC to come out here and say that this is a lawful arrest is, at law, deeply flawed,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.