Working in the cyberz makes for many WTFs

Feb 20, 2020 - 5 minute read - Law

I fought the Law, and the Law won, Part 3

My education on the ins and outs of the Victorian criminal justice system began with the Criminal Procedure Act. Included with my charge sheet were some instructions on how I could ge more information from the informant about the charge, in my case a police officer from the Traffic Camera Office. Following these instructions, I sent the officer in question an email with my list of things I wanted him to provide. It was a long list so I won't reproduce the whole thing here, but in short I asked for procedural documentation on how the camera was tested, how the image in the evidentiary certificate was produced, and what kind of security controls were in place to provide assurance that the cameras weren't compromised over the network.

As you might expect, the police informant was not inclined to provide the information I asked for. The response I got from him was basically “I've provided you with everything I am required to under the Act, go away.” I'm sure he gets these kinds of requests every day, and he probably finds them super annoying, but even taking that into account I felt the tone of his email was contemptuous, if not actively hostile. My interactions with the TCO did not get any better after this.

Having been rejected in writing by the TCO, the next step was to make an application to the court under the Criminal Procedure Act to have an order made compelling the informant to disclose the information I asked for. Without a real lawyer to advise me on this (or do it for me), I wasn't entirely sure how to go about it though. The website for the Magistrates Court of Victoria is an unholy mess on which trying to find anything in particular is an exercise in futility, and while there is phone number listed to call, no one ever, EVER picks it up. Fortunately, I work just around the corner from the court, and was able to drop in and ask the registrar in person.

The Court Registrars were, in my every dealing with them, helpful and courteous - a stark contrast to the police. When I turned up with my charge sheet and pointed to the section referring to the application under the CPA I wanted to make, the registrar didn't just tell me which form I needed, he printed it out for me, filled in most of the details, and processed it on the spot. He even explained the application process to me, that I would need to attend a hearing to have the application reviewed by a Magistrate, and that I would need to take a copy down to the TCO to let them know I was making the application …… uh oh.

The TCO is helpfully just across the road from the court. I went in and spoke to the receptionist and gave her the form. I was surprised when she looked at it confusedly like she'd never seen one before. Surely they get these all the time I thought? In hindsight maybe they don't, because a real lawyer wouldn't have wasted their time doing this, but here I was. Eventually, she took the form out back somewhere to show to someone more senior.

After waiting literally 30 minutes for anyone to come speak to me, eventually a bald cop with a sergeant's badge came out and said to me bluntly “We don't have to respond to this.” I replied saying it was a court application and they could respond or not but it would be the magistrate who decided what they had to do. This obviously just pissed him off more, and he started ranting about how the information was proprietary and that they would make a costs order against me to fight it - all just scare tactics as far as I was concerned. When I began to reply by saying “with all due respect-” He cut me off, shouting “DON'T PATRONISE ME!", followed by more ranting about how he didn't have to take that from me or some such rubbish. I honestly stopped listening, waited until he ran out of steam, then left the building.

A week or so later I got an email from Maddocks Lawyers, who it seems do a lot of work for DJCS in this space. The first email was missing the attachment it said I was to refer to. I contemplated not doing anything about this then turning up to court and telling the Magistrate I never received any letter from them, but I decided that might not go down well and it would look better if I had done my best to follow up. When I got the attachment, it was little more than a notice saying that they act for DJCS and had been instructed to “brief counsel” in regards to my application. I didn't really know what that meant, except that they were sending a real lawyer to argue against me.

As it turned out, he was pretty helpful. Stay tuned to hear how he laid the smack down on my poorly conceived application, and simultaneously guided me on my next steps.