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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Thursday, 27 March 2008
DPP 'lion' Cowdery has bigger target on rump now, over truth of resourcing
Mood:  quizzical
Topic: nsw govt

The Herald front pager is dramatic for the evidence of bump and grind between institutions of power in NSW, DPP chief versus NSW Attorney General. But also Fairfax Herald taking sides in their editorial below, and front page here:

Funding strings on prosecutors

March 27, 2008

THE bean counters of the Auditor-General's department have run their measures over the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and, unsurprisingly, have found it difficult to answer a question that is not easily quantified: what price justice? Nevertheless, like bean counters everywhere, their answer is to recommend installing a new super-bean counter inside the prosecutor's office and have everyone filling out more internal reports about their workload and how they process it.

No one should object to a publicly funded office being held to standards of accountability and efficiency. The prosecutor's staff and budget have gone up while the number of cases it handles has declined. But are the prosecutors being held to account for falling efficiency - if that's what it is - in the entire judicial system? The auditors acknowledge the growing complexity of cases and longer trials, and that the state prosecutors are hostage to the competence of police in preparing committals for trial, and then the scheduling of the courts.

The increased scrutiny is shrouded with a miasma of suspicion because of the background of friction between the incumbent Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, and the Labor Government. Mr Cowdery has declined to join the periodic lynch mobs whipped up by the politicians and shock jocks, and he speaks out fearlessly against attempts to overawe judicial officers, as he is now doing about what he sees as the motives behind the audit. His frank comments yesterday about the toxic political environment surrounding his office show why we need him. The DPP's office remains an island of independence in a state where attempts to subvert the separation of powers are constant. No wonder then, that the recent abolition of life tenure for the DPP is seen more against this background, and not the objective proclaimed by the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, of "greater transparency and diversity in appointments".

Many now will see the Auditor-General's office lending itself to or being used in an effort to nobble the prosecutors. It was a spat over funding between Mr Cowdery and the state Treasurer, Michael Costa, that led to the Auditor-General's inquiry being commissioned. It now recommends inserting a new executive director in the prosecutor's office to manage its spending and "liaise" with the Treasury and other government agencies. Although this official would report to the director, he or she would be senior to the present deputy-directors. This could create a new power centre responsible to outside signals, and blur lines of authority when the director is absent. It is a proposal the public must view with disquiet, especially given the government that proposes it.

The Green Party are urging their Coalition Opposition colleagues to take a similar principled line of keeping a political appointment (like Joe Scimone?) out of the DPP:

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon - Media Release - 26 March 2008

Government minder for the DPP
Greens MP and justice spokesperson Lee Rhiannon says the government is using the cover of efficiency and accountability to exercise greater control over the DPP's office, risking the erosion of a fair and impartial justice system in NSW.

"The new position of Executive Director allows the government to insert a minder in the Office of the DPP and opens the door to politically motivated decisions about what criminal matters to pursue, or not pursue," Ms Rhiannon said.

"The Executive Director will be in a position to control the purse strings and the direction of the DPP's casework.

"The Attorney General says this new position will report directly to him, not the DPP as recommended by the Auditor-General.

"This is a unique arrangement in the public service. The government's real agenda is to give a mate the job of looking over Mr Cowdery's shoulder.

"It threatens justice to have a government appointee able to exercise control over what criminal matters receive attention, or whether a Minister or ex-Minister is prosecuted.

"The government is cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer by drowning the DPP in additional measuring and reporting requirements.

"There are better ways of achieving efficiencies than demanding that the DPP develop, monitor and report upon a plethora of performance indicators.

"Inefficiencies in the courts system and NSW Police Force have not received similar attention, because they are beyond the capacity of this government to analyse or solve. 

"The Auditor-General is endeavouring to impose a private law firm model on the DPP, which would appeal to this government's unhealthy affection for privatisation.

"This neglects to appreciate that the role and functions of the DPP are very different to a commercial law firm whose main aim is to maximise profits, not promote justice.

"The Greens call on the Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell to resist the government's proposed changes to the DPP's office.

"The Opposition's track record on the DPP, including its attempt to put the DPP on a fixed term contract, would suggest it will not reject this attack on the Office's independence," Ms Rhiannon said.

For more information:  Lee Rhiannon - 9230 3551, 0427 861 568

SAM has one question into both Opposition's Shadow Attorney General and former deputy director of the DPP, Greg Smith, and media officer for the DPP:

On ABC 702 yesterday the AG Hatzistergos argued [presumably based on the govt inspired Auditor General's report] a 40% increase in funding for the DPP over the period of a 30% decrease in referral of committals. Do you accept this claim?


We don't accept such a claim on face value with this govt. Rather it may reflect increase in work load despite lower number of committals for other reasons. An assault and battery is different to a bank robbery or murder trial. Maybe they have other new duties too, say managing victims of crime liaison?

In particular we notice that Cowdery is like a grand old Lion in NSW politics. People do "listen" to him. But as with a similar legal lion character in All the Kings Men political thriller of modern American literature (and 2006 film), the old lion better look out for the ALP dirt unit dredging up anything in his past back to nappies. Because to quote Mr Cowdery these guys are indeed ruthless and grubby.

Posted by editor at 12:57 PM NZT
Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008 1:45 PM NZT

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