ACT Bar stresses DPP independence amidst attorney general’s concerns

Attorney general reportedly met with acting DPP to discuss sexual crime conviction rates

ACT Bar stresses DPP independence amidst attorney general’s concerns

The ACT Bar Association has issued a statement emphasising the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) following recent reports that Attorney General Shane Rattenbury had met with Acting DPP Anthony Williamson SC to raise concerns about sexual assault conviction rates.

The statement, signed by ACT Bar president Brodie Buckland, said the DPP is a “statutory appointment independent of government” and that maintaining this independence is “of fundamental importance to proper functioning of the criminal justice system in the ACT.”

Reports about the meeting have suggested that the attorney general was particularly concerned about the number of prosecutions being dropped. Meanwhile, Williamson allegedly found the conversation “highly inappropriate.”

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In its coverage, The Australian said it spoke to “witnesses in the Office of the DPP” who claimed that Williamson was “troubled” by the incident.

On the flip side, Rattenbury told ABC News that he was surprised about Williamson’s negative reaction and said they had a “good conversation.”

“I did not direct him, nor did I ask him to change his individual decisions on any prosecutorial matters,” he said. “I asked him a range of policy questions which is the remit of the attorney general.”

In response to these reports, Buckland said in the ACT Bar’s statement that the association was unaware of the meeting details. However, he maintained that any move to influence, guide, or direct the DPP is “not appropriate.”

“To do so would cut across the independence of that office,” said Buckland. “The decision to prosecute must be made solely on an assessment of the evidence and the likelihood of a conviction.”

Buckland also cited section 1.1 of the Prosecution Policy of the Australian Capital Territory, which “ensures the effective removal of the prosecution process from the political arena by affording the Director an independent status in that process.”

“The ACT Bar Association trusts that the office of DPP remains an independent body, free from any influence from any external areas,” the statement concluded.

Williamson is set to step down from his current role, with Victoria Engel SC taking over as ACT DPP in May.   

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