The most recent public stoush between the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Nicholas Cowdrey QC and the Iemma Government reached new heights last week with the DPP effectively calling Premier Morris Iemma and his Government a bunch of grubby incompetents controlled by vested interests.
There has been little love lost between the Office of the DPP and the NSW Labor Government in the past with Mr Cowdrey often taking the NSW Labor machine to task for running a vote-grabbing law and order agenda.
However, the latest dispute relates to plans by the Iemma Government to introduce an Executive Director of the Office of the DPP to ostensibly improve efficiency. Mr Cowdrey has criticised this plan as a thinly veiled attempt to usurp the independence of the DPP.
The role of the Office of the DPP is to run cases on behalf of the Crown to prosecute those charged with serious criminal law offences. Before the DPP will take on a prosecution it will perform a public interest test. This test will involve weighing up a number of complex factors, such as, the availability and admissibility of evidence in the matter, likely outcome, seriousness of the offence and any aggravating circumstances. It’s left to Police Prosecutors to prosecute less complex matters.
It’s important that the Office of the DPP remain an independent entity to prevent criminal matters being prosecuted for improper purposes and ensuring the criminal justice system remains fair, transparent and accountable.
The NSW Labor Government’s track record on law and order has been lacklustre. Former premier Bob Carr was the master of utilising images of marauding ethnic youths running around with machetes and semi-automatic weapons to win elections. It was under Carr we incessantly heard about the crisis caused by the spread of ethnic gangs in Sydney’s south-west.
This is not to suggest the Coalition has been any better on these issues – both parties have been in lockstep in calling for irresponsible increases to sentences without having any solid evidence of its benefits; attacking the independence of the judiciary; and, maligning entire communities on the basis of a few bad apples.
It’s a testament to Mr Cowdrey that we have some semblance of a balanced debate on criminal justice matters in NSW where the Government seems hellbent on twisting facts to suit particular political objectives.
The public should be quick to stridently defend the DPP from any attack on the institution’s independence.