Victoria Police say they will fully cooperate with a special investigation into the conduct of officers implicated in the Lawyer X scandal.
Despite public pledges to do the same for a royal commission in the affair, Commissioner Margaret McMurdo pounded them for obstructing and delaying their work.
She highlighted the lack of cooperation between the armed forces in preparing documents.
“The Victoria Police Department produced thousands of documents that were undated or had meaningless or imprecise titles – for example, handwritten documents entitled ‘Diary Entries’ without reference to the name of the police officer who owned the diary,” Ms. McMurdo wrote.
More prominent examples included the discovery of the police diaries of former Chief Inspector Simon Overland in a police warehouse after he presented evidence and the discovery of his diaries by Inspector Martin Allison on the roof of his home 12 months after his appearance.
In another case, metadata revealed that documents identified by the force in May 2019 were not forwarded to the investigation until July 2019.
The Commissioner also suggested the Force’s broad interpretation of Public Interest Immunity (PII) when it came to protecting information that he claimed was not in the public interest to be disclosed.
On one allegation, police refused to hand over 11 whistleblower files that they claimed were “extremely sensitive” despite Ms. McMurdo’s insistence that they were relevant to her work.
She recommended that an independent person be appointed to review it within three months.
She said the force often claimed that information could reveal “confidential police practices” but did not provide any substantiation for their claims.
“The Victoria Police Department has also frequently invoked personal information on material that was publicly available in media reports and court files,” she said.
Victoria Police attorneys once attempted to suppress the fact that officers heard an underworld murder through a wiretapping device in the killer’s car – an act that appeared on the television series Underbelly over a decade ago.
They also tried to prevent the investigation from hearing that officers were recording on a recording device.
Ms. McMurdo recommended that legislation be amended to remove the ability for a person to refuse to comply with an information disclosure notice if they are the subject of a PII claim.
Attorney General Jill Hennessy says all of the commission’s recommendations will be accepted.
The work of the investigation was also hampered by a significant number of historical suppressive orders, which Ms. McMurdo stated were not easy to find.
Former judge Frank Vincent recommended years ago that a publicly accessible database of orders be made available. Work on a privately accessible database has started, but will only contain orders from January 2020.
“If there had been a comprehensive, central and accessible register of suppression orders during the Commission’s investigation, significant time and cost savings would have been achieved, confusion and accidental violations avoided and the safety of those who really needed protection would have been better managed.” She found.
Australian Associated Press