Wednesday 19 May 2021
The Victorian Government’s Response & Implementation Plan that was released on Friday 7th May, with very little fanfare, was a cautious but significant step towards the robust, effective and independent investigation of police misconduct that Victorians have been calling for for many decades.
The Response & Implementation Plan was responding to the recommendations of the 2020 Royal Commission which largely looked at how Victoria Police mishandled informers including the infamous Lawyer X or Nicola Gobbo. But the Royal Commission’s recommendations and this Implementation Plan has far broader implications for police oversight and accountability more generally.
So what does this mean for independent investigations?
We finally have a formal government response to the joint parliamentary IBAC Committee’s Inquiry into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria which was released in 2018 that we have been waiting for. Two years late but at last we have one.
The commitments contained in this Implementation Plan are positive.
There is commitment for legislation – for a ‘robust’ and ‘victim-centred’ police oversight and complaints system – to be introduced in this term of Government.
The Implementation Plan contains these notable commitments:
“The Government is committed to a robust police oversight and complaints system in which the roles of all agencies are clear and community expectations regarding the independent oversight of police misconduct complaints are met.
This includes establishing a police misconduct complaints system that is complainant-centred, accessible to all Victorians and meets the needs of all complainants, including children and young people, Aboriginal people, women, survivors of family violence, LGBTIQA+ people, people with mental illness or disability, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and people experiencing social or economic disadvantage.”
The plan includes a Systemic Review of Victoria’s Police oversight system as recommended by the Royal Commission. This review will begin in early June with targeted consultations and a public options paper to be released later in 2021.
The Government says it will work closely with members of the community and key agencies, including community legal centres, Victoria Police, IBAC and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to conduct the review and develop “principle-based” reforms, to ensure Victoria’s police oversight system “meets community expectations and delivers the highest standards of police accountability and integrity.”
The review will build on the important work undertaken by the IBAC Committee in 2018, which found that the current system failed to meet community expectations regarding the independent investigation of serious police misconduct allegations.
It would be good for as many agencies and groups to engage with this review process as possible. The Police Accountability Project and many community legal centres, law firms and advocacy groups will be involved. It is due to wrap up before November 2022 with legislation introduced into parliament.
What’s disappointing about this Implementation Plan?
It is disappointing that the government is being so cautious. This systemic review means another year for us to argue what this independent system needs to look like when so much work has already been done. It’s disappointing that the government has not already began drafting legislation based upon the extensive research and the 69 IBACC recommendations tabled in 2018.
Undoubtedly this caution is due to the real or perceived need to navigate what could be significant opposition to these critical reforms.
Thirdly – there’s no indication in the plan if police-contact-deaths investigations are included in the scope of the review. We have long argued that it needs to be a key part of IBAC’s capacity to replace the homicide squad and independently investigate police-contact deaths or deaths in police custody.
What is significant about this plan?
What is significant is that we have successfully moved this body of reform up from a parliamentary inquiry to a commitment from Cabinet for legislative reform.
The Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes is the Minister responsible for this portfolio area. In her forward to the Implementation Plan she writes: “I was privileged to serve as a member of the IBAC Committee during its inquiry. What clearly emerges from the work of the IBAC Committee and the Commission is the current police oversight system needs a stronger focus placed on the needs of complainants and victims of police misconduct. The Commission’s recommendations build on the IBAC Committee’s inquiry and set out a clear pathway for review and reform.”
Currently in Victoria, the overwhelming majority of complaints by the public are sent back to the police for investigation or ‘management’.
Police investigate themselves when there is a death in police custody, or when there is a complaint of torture, degradation, abuse, ill-treatment, assault, racial abuse or excessive force.
Human rights standards demand that the investigation of human rights abuses is conducted by a body that is:
a) Independent of the police (that is, hierarchically, institutionally and practically),
b) capable of conducting an adequate investigation (able to ascertain whether the actions of the police breach legal or disciplinary standards and whether police practices are in compliance with human rights),
d) open to public scrutiny, and
e) victim-centred and enables the victim to fully participate in the investigation.
These standards are what we will be calling for throughout the systemic review and are what needs to embedded in legislation.
If you would like to be involved in the Systemic Review please contact the Police Accountability Project at PAPadmin@fkclc.org.au
For more background see our last Update on Independent Investigations.
Following the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants (Royal Commission), the government has now released its Response and Implementation Plan. The Royal Commission, which was established shortly after the release of the IBAC Committee’s Inquiry, recommended that government undertake a principles-based review of the police oversight system (Recommendation 61) to ensure the system is:
- consistent and coherent;
- contributes to improved police accountability; and
- delivers meaningful, outcome-focused monitoring of police decisions and actions.
Resources and briefing papers prepared by PAP over recent years Include this short 2019 Policy Brief covers some key issues with the IBACC recommendation including the ‘Serious Misconduct’ threshold issue.
And our detailed 2017 Policy Brief here: