The intimidation of a solicitor by an elite police strike force after he made a routine request for officers to give court evidence in person has been branded “completely unacceptable” by the professional body for NSW solicitors.
In a report last week, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) found a solicitor in regional NSW was subjected to “deliberate, deceitful and malicious harassment” over two days in May 2019, including having two police officers wait outside his house from 6.30am.
He had requested that officers from Strike Force Raptor – which targets serious criminal activity – travel to regional NSW to give evidence in an animal cruelty case involving his client, a member of a motorcycle gang, instead of appearing in a video call.
A sergeant in Raptor, who was not happy about the regional travel, instructed one of the two officers who waited outside the solicitor’s home to ensure he “doesn’t make it to court”. The sergeant later explained to a superior, “If he’s going to get us all up there, then he can get targeted with the bikies.”
The solicitor was followed as he left home that morning and given fines, including for not indicating as he reversed out of his driveway. His car was pulled over and given defects, however a mechanic later inspected it and found no defects.
When the solicitor caught a taxi to work, that driver was also pulled over and given a ticket for failing to indicate when exiting a roundabout. Police then waited outside the solicitor’s office.
He was so shaken when he arrived at court that he could not represent his client that day and advised the client to get another lawyer. He was then allowed to leave court through a private entrance used by the magistrate, because Strike Force Raptor officers were waiting outside.
LECC found the targeting of the solicitor was “serious misconduct” carried out for no legitimate policing purpose, which amounted to “deliberate, deceitful and malicious harassment”. It found the solicitor was “harassed and intimidated” to such an extent he could not represent his client to the best of his abilities.
Juliana Warner, the president of the Law Society of NSW, said on Wednesday that she has written to NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on behalf of the legal profession, “expressing my concerns about the conduct uncovered by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission”.
“The deliberate targeting of a solicitor, as uncovered by the Commission, so as to impede his or her ability to represent his or her client at court, is completely unacceptable and has raised significant concerns across the legal profession,” Ms Warner said.
“It presents a real threat to the community’s belief that the criminal justice system is operating as it should.
“I also noted in my letter to the Police Commissioner that the LECC found that three officers engaged in serious police misconduct and recommended that further action be considered in relation to that misconduct. I look forward to the Police Commissioner’s response to the Commission’s report.”
Michael McHugh, SC, the president of the NSW Bar Association, said a crucial aspect of the rule of law is that every person, regardless of wealth or popularity, should be able to access independent legal representation “to defend and robustly test any charge against them”.
“Law enforcement and the legal profession undertake different, independent and undoubtedly important roles and responsibilities in our legal system to promote the administration of justice,” Mr McHugh said. “It is critical that each must have mutual respect for the independence and professional duties of the other.”
In a statement, a NSW Police spokesperson said the organisation “notes the release of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) reports” in relation to this case and another separate case.
“We will consider the contents of the reports and recommendations made by LECC,” the spokesperson said.
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