Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mick Keelty and the Logic of Public Scrutiny

Is it just me, or has cop-in-charge Mick Keelty been acting a little… unhinged ever since the Mohammed Haneef case?

Exhibit A for the prosecution: Keelty's address to the Sydney Institute last night, in which he criticised the media for reporting on high-profile terrorism cases and subjecting the powers-that-be to rigorous and sometimes unfriendly scrutiny. You know the drill. I think it's known in some circles as "doing their job".

Keelty's complaint is that the media have been so busy reporting on cases such as the Haneef prosecution, airing facts in the public sphere, humanising the would-be defendants, and so forth, that the judicial process doesn't stand a chance. Which is just a little rich on a few different levels. Namely:

1. Time and again, the media has wielded its opinion-making power in a way that is most favourable to the public prosecutors. I'm looking at you, Murdoch press. One hardly needs to open the Daily Telegraph to encounter an example of journalists and editorial writers whipping up a public frenzy against the minor recalcitrant du jour. Due process? Forget it. Keelty might be disappointed that this handy little coin has a flip side, but he can hardly claim to be surprised.

2. Er, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution. Innocent until proven guilty, as the legal phrase has it. The media are supposed to cover criminal cases as though the defendant is innocent. Remember? If the cops can't make the case for the defendant's guilt in the face of a little media scrutiny, they can't make the case at all.

3. Re. the Haneef case: it's been so long that perhaps our collective memory of the events is a little hazy. So, a little refresher on Haneef-case chronology. First, the AFP themselves released highly selective excerpts from the interview, the cumulative effect of which was to lie about Haneef's association with terror suspects. Then, Haneef's lawyer, Stephen "Atticus Finch" Keim, released the whole transcript to set the record straight. Now, it's understandable that the AFP were embarrassed by the release of the full transcript, in all its computer-illiterate, geographically shaky, Ramadan-ignorant glory. But that's hardly the media's fault. Is it really Keelty's contention that justice would've been better served had the media's knowledge of the case been based solely on AFP-approved "facts"?

4. While we're on the subject of extraneous bodies influencing judicial matters, how about a little shout-out to then Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, who, at the behest of the Australian Federal Police (yes, that AFP) cancelled Haneef's visa, thus effectively overriding the decision of the judiciary to grant Haneef bail? Or are we not supposed to be concerned about that kind of extrajudicial interference?

5. If you purport to be concerned, as Keelty does, about the erosion of public confidence in your institution, you're probably not doing your cause any favours by waxing totalitarian. So rather than calling for "a halt to criticism of public institutions", how about you focus on cleaning up your own act? The media can only report on what happens, after all.

Attempting to preserve secrecy is not, of course, an uncommon reaction to the threat of terrorism. But it is an irrational one. The seriousness of the charge lends more, not less, weight to the importance of due process; and the heightened powers of the police render it more, not less, important that the media scrutinise that process. Confidence in public institutions can only be achieved if the workings of those institutions are exposed to the public. In the Haneef case, the AFP and Andrews failed the accountability test miserably. But that is cause for greater accountability, not easier tests.

* * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATE: Writing in Crikey for us subscriber-freaks, Greg Barns has a similar take: "The idea that Keelty and his colleagues should be allowed to brief editors of media outlets on a secret basis in terrorism investigations, while at the same time preventing lawyers acting on behalf of those being investigated speaking to the media, is so absurd, that one wonders if this man has really lost the plot."


Diego Luego said...

I saw some of Herr Keelty's little talk at the Sydney Institute and it looked like he couldn't decide between imitating a politician who had spent too long on the opposition benches or a stand-up comic. He didn't do either very well.

At times I wasn't sure whether I was expected to laugh or not. His speech had some of the qualities of the paranoid-schizoid letters to the editor that sometimes get printed by mistake (am I just imagining it in retrospect, but were his eyes and hair both a bit wild?).

He really did make a big tactical mistake in aligning himself so closely to the previous regime, and now he has given his detractors so much more ammunition.

I suspect that Big Plod Keelty was working on the assumption that Howard was a cert to be re-elected and misguidedly tailored his actions to suit.

Michael K said...

The public sahould remember that its the AFP which often scrutinises state police, IN many of the state oversight agencies AFP agents are quite happy to investigate their state colleagues whilst there is no similar mechanism to scrutinise the AFP. This group were the leading agency in the Wood Royal Commission, the Building Industry Royal Commission, The Wheat Board Inquiry. In 1997 there was an inquiry into FP corruption called the Harrison Inquiry, state police were not appointed to conduct investigations, The AFP investigated themselves. In fact Mick Keelty headed the Investigation for Harrison. No surprise the report was never published. When Commissioner Keelty dealt with almosr all misconduct administratively and simply did not use the AFP Misconduct Tribunal, hence it was disbanded. There are far too many unanswered questions regarding the integrity and competency of the AFP. Its time for a Royal Commission.

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Anonymous said...

Mick Keelty.......O' I could talk on this TOPIC for days on a professional level. He knows he's on the way out. He is also aware that he will go down as the biggest slight on the AFP record, for 'centuries' to come. I can guarantee he is fishing for a political career with the Liberal Party after his contract is up. Look at it this way...why has he not been sacked, any other AFP officer would have been dismissed for making such F$%& ups. There are sections in the Australian Federal Police Act which address this and the power to dismiss the Commissioner.

He is an idiot - who had embarrassed Australian policing in a whole all around the world. Note how quick he came out to the media in regards to the paedophile internet matter. He had once again disassociated the AFP from state police forces, he did damage on going investigations.

Anonymous said...

I have personally been the victim of a Malicious Prosecution by the AFP over allegedly downloading illegal material!

The illegal material they accused me of downloading wasn't found - they instead tried to prosecute me on the basis of a video file of a 34 year old porn star!!!! There was NO presumption of innocence. There was NO appology when the Magistrate dismissed the charges. There was NO appology for screwing up my entire life. There was NO appology for being assaulted by an AFP "appointee" during the search. There was NO appology for accusing me of something I absolutely abhore. There was NO investigation into other possible explanations as to why my ISP was implicated such as hacking or "hot-spotting", there was NO investigation to verify that I WASN'T even home when this stuff was allegedly downloaded. There was NO appology for illegally keeping my equipment after it was cleared. There was NO appology for NOT taking my complaint from the AFP officer who I complained to about the assault (a mandated requirement of the Complaints - Aust Federal Police Act 1981). There was NO appology for my lost income to date (I have not worked since the false allegation and illegal arrest and detention 10 months ago. There was NO PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE!!! There was NO appology for serious violations of my basic Human Rights. There was NO appology for making a notification to Child Safety who promptly found me guilty 9 months BEFORE THE COMMITTAL HEARING and banned me from seeing my son. There was NO appology for NAMING AND SHAMING ME well before the charges were dismissed (POLICE ACTING AS JUDGE AND JURY). There has been NO appology for making me so depressed I thought about taking my life at least 4 times during the 10 MONTH ORDEAL (the only thing that kept me going was that I knew I was innocent). There was NO appology for the INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT OF THE AFP not even wanting to talk to me regarding these serious breaches of conduct!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There was NO appology for the Federal Ombudsman NOT having the teeth or resources to look at these matters of serious misconduct. There was NO appology when it came out in court that there WAS NO BASIS TO ARREST ME IN THE FIRST PLACE LET ALONE CHARGE AND PROSECUTE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


In my case, I coined the phrase that "It might be that all it takes is a few good men to do nothing for evil to flourish, but it only takes one or two good men to take things too far for INJUSTICE TO FLOURISH"

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