What Victorian police Say (Or: Not the Spanish Inquisition)

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Image Source (Tandberg): http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/police-slam-catholic-church-20121010-27dr2.html

State Police Departments in Australia are quite well regarded by the public. They are also rather conservative organisations not in the habit of issuing criticisms, other than perhaps on stupid drivers. This makes the vociferous attacks by the Victoria Police on the Catholic Church all the more extraordinary.

On the first day of the Victorian enquiry hearings, Deputy Commissioner, Graeme Ashton, lashed out at the Catholic Church on a number of fronts, leaving many open-mouthed in shock. Ashton accused the Catholic Church of taking elaborate measures to avoid the criminal justice system. He also blasted them for being more focused on internal church issues such as legal liability and public relations rather than the long-term interest of victims.

Ashton’s evidence reflected criticisms detailed in the Victoria Police Department’s official submission to the enquiry. Largely for the benefit of readers in Australia outside Victoria, and for those following this blog in other countries, some excerpts from that submission are given here.

A summary of the main complaints:

  • The Catholic Church appears to dissuade victims of sexual crime from reporting to the police;
  • The inquiry process undertaken by the Melbourne Archdiocese  (see previous posting) is believed to be detrimental to police investigative process and the prosecution of those suspected of criminal sexual crimes against children;
  • Alerting suspects of allegations which may have resulted in loss of evidence;
  • A lack of engagement with police;
  • A perceived conflict of interest for the Independent Commissioner (Mr. O’Callaghan – see previous posting );
  • Movement or protection of offenders who were known or suspected of  committing sexual offending against children; and
  • A failure to make offenders accountable to the law.

When commenting on the unusually high number of case concerning the Catholic Church relative to other organisations, the submission notes that, “There may be a number of reasons for this, including its size and establishment in the Australian community together with its involvement in the Victorian education system in the last 50 years.”

With regard to the Melbourne Response (see previous postings) the submission states, “Victoria Police has serious concerns regarding the terms of this inquiry process and its appearance as a de facto substitute for criminal justice. As noted on its website, the Melbourne Response has made a number of ex gratia payments to victims. In spite of this, it has not referred a single complaint to Victoria Police. This inquiry process is not a replacement for a criminal investigation undertaken by a law enforcement agency.

With regard to the Melbourne Response giving “legal” advice to victims, the submission levels great criticisms. Victoria Police is concerned that the inquiry process maybe providing inappropriate and perhaps incorrect advice to complainants. For example, in one publicized case in 2010, the Commissioner made statements regarding the potential success of a criminal allegation such as ‘this kind of conduct you described would be unlikely to be held by a Court as criminal conduct. Notwithstanding the fact that members from Victoria Police disagree, it is concerning that an Independent Commissioner, appointed under Canon Law, is providing authoritative advice to persons on the potential success of a criminal allegation against a member of the Church. A copy of this letter is at Appendix A.”

The submission also states, “As noted above, victims may not be legally represented through the church inquiry process. This adverse advice, by a legally qualified person in a position of authority, may be the only ‘legal’ advice obtained by the victim. This advice may influence a vulnerable person to conclude that their complaint could not be pursued though the criminal justice system. This is outside the scope of the Independent Commissioner’s appointment to advise a victim that their complaint was insufficient for a criminal case.”

The submission claims that confidentiality clauses prevent victims complaining to police noting that, “To obtain an ex gratia payment for compensation, victims must enter into an agreement discharging the Church from any further liability. Some of these deeds include confidentiality clauses agreeing not to disclose or discuss the circumstances of the complaint.”

The submission goes on to say, “The deed represents a legally binding agreement between the church and the victim in respect of the ex gratia payment. A breach of contract gives rise to a liability to be sued. In the context of a criminal investigation, criminal law does not necessarily override the civil law. If a signatory discusses or discloses the information, even to police, the church retains the option to sue regarding the breach. Although to date, the Catholic Church has not sued in relation to breach of the confidentiality clause, a number of victims have indicated anxiety regarding this confidentiality clause. In effect, the confidentiality clause intimidates victims, preventing them from reporting their concerns to police and assisting with other investigations.”

Interference with routine police investigations rated highly as a concern. The submission notes, “As part of their process of ‘handling’ allegations of child sexual assault, the Catholic Church has on a number of occasions moved alleged offenders. This has included moving alleged offenders to other positions which were perceived as presenting a lower risk to the community or to other locations to impede police investigation. In more recent examples, it is apparent that the church has assisted offenders who are known to police in moving overseas. In some circumstances, the Church has alerted the alleged offender to a police investigation. One instance of this occurred as recently as 2009. In this instance it was evident that by the time police had arrived potential evidence was removed or destroyed.”

Finally, the Catholic Church is effectively criticised for re-traumatizing victims by not using modern interviewing techniques. The submission notes, “This “whole of story” interviewing model is now widely practiced and is also effective in trauma reduction. Victoria Police believe that none of these modern services are being provided by the church and indeed we are aware of circumstances where victims have been required to confront alleged offenders where they have been required to repeat allegations in the presence of those alleged offenders. Victoria Police has offered to provide this briefing to the Catholic Church on two occasions but these offers have not been accepted to date.”

The main recommendation of the Victoria Police submission involves a law change: “It is the opinion of Victoria Police that such deliberate action should be criminalized. It may be appropriate to consider an offence similar to the NSW offence of concealing a serious indictable offence’ (s 316 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW))” (see previous posting on the NSW enquiry).

[Postscript: The Royal Commission is finally due to make a further announcement this coming Wednesday].

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Victorian Enquiry: Broken Rites victims’ organisation submission

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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