Criminal Law

By Erin Taylor


What’s in a name? “Nemesis” and “Raptor”: Good cop or bad cop?

There has been a lot of talk lately about the “rule of law” and it being the core of our legal system. At its most basic, the “rule of law” is the principle that every person and organisation, including the government, is subject to the same laws. As a criminal defence firm, the rule of law is something we work incredibly hard to uphold. Unfortunately its application at all levels is inconsistent at best.

Strike Force “Nemesis” was created by the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) some time ago to target organised crime in Canberra, including outlaw motorcycle gangs. The police often get a bit carried away when naming their teams. Even calling it a “strike force” is an attempt to give the team a tough and edgy feel. The NSW equivalent is called “Raptor”. A cool and strong name after an aggressive bird of prey. But aren’t these silly names indicative of the police not properly understanding their role in the justice system? That is – to gather evidence fairly and within the law and to present it to the court. Perhaps a better name would be Themis. Themis was an ancient Greek Titaness and is described as a lady of good counsel, the personification of fairness, law, natural law and custom. A change in name from the AFP would not require the changing of too many letters on their cool hats and other merch.

On another note, I am not sure Nemesis really understand the origin of their name. A nemesis is an opponent or rival whom a protagonist cannot overcome. A protagonist is the hero or champion of the work of literature or actor in a film. The nemesis is the “bad guy” in the plot. You might know famous nemeses such as Lex Luther, Professor Zoom (for you oldies), The Green Goblin, the Joker or even Magneto.

If the AFP are  going to choose a cool name – best to understand what it means – so they know what side they think they are on.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission  (“LECC”) in NSW has recently handed down a scathing decision about the conduct of a number of NSW Police officers assigned to the NSW Police task force Raptor. The description of the behaviour of these officers demonstrates that they clearly lack an understanding of the rule of law and their role in the legal system. Raptor was established to target organised crime including outlaw motor cycle gangs.  In this case, a solicitor who was acting for a bikie refused a request from officers in the Raptor squad to allow them to give evidence via video link. That refusal (which was within the solicitor’s rights to do) meant the Raptor members had to travel to regional NSW from Sydney to give evidence.

In retaliation for the solicitor’s decision to deny their request, the sergeant in the Raptor squad ordered local members of the squad to make sure the solicitor “didn’t make it to court” to represent his client. The sergeant was reported to have said “if he’s going to get us all up there, then he can get targeted with the bikies”.

Over the 2 days prior to the hearing, members of Raptor squad targeted the solicitor. He was pulled over twice in one day and issued with relatively minor traffic infringements. He was also followed. The next day when he caught a taxi to work, the taxi was pulled over and issued with a traffic infringement. The solicitor was so shaken by the systematic harassment of him by Raptor, he was unable to represent the accused when he finally did arrive at court. Raptor is of course a bird of prey. In this case Raptor’s prey was an innocent solicitor just doing his job.

The irony is, if any of our accused clients were to carry out this sort of conduct towards witnesses or solicitors the police would throw the book at them. They would be charged with an attempt to pervert the course of justice and other serious charges and police would oppose bail because of the serious nature of the conduct and the importance of ensuring the court process is not tampered with. This case is made even more serious because the police used their great power in such an egregiously underhanded manner.

When reading the findings of the LECC it is clear that they had investigated Raptor’s conduct in a vigorous manner. The LECC were scathing about the conduct of Raptor and used words such as “serious misconduct”, “disgraceful”, “deliberate and deceitful”, “malicious harassment”. The LECC have the power to recommend dismissal of police officers when they find their behaviour is so grave it is warranted. This has to be one of those cases.

Curiously, the LECC did NOT dismiss any officer rather they recommended an internal review of the conduct and also stated the police officers involved (including the sergeant who gave the orders) should apologise to the solicitor involved. Internal review means that police officers decide what happens to their fellow police officers. Whether that is consistent with the rule of law is an interesting question. Given the same factual scenario as what was described in the Raptor report, I’ll bet there would be prosecutors all over the country recommending criminal charges if the people involved didn’t have a badge.