The group was established as a support network for mainly Local Law Officers who due to changing VICPOL practices at some stations back in 2007 were required to start prosecuting Council related matters themselves.
Prior to this the police prosecutors had been prosecuting unpaid Local Laws and parking fines on behalf of some councils, many of which had been issued by VICPOL members.
The group was started by Greg McKay from Bendigo whose only court experience prior had been as a witness to some minor parking offences. After VICPOL advised they would not be prosecuting Council matters anymore Greg was given a 6 – week turnaround period to learn what was involved and how to prosecute unpaid Local Laws infringements in the Magistrates Court on behalf of Council.
No formal training courses were available to Greg prior to his first court appearance and as such the police suggested that Stuart Stevens from Echuca be contacted as he was already prosecuting as an authorised officer on behalf of council.
Stuart was able to provide Greg with many forms and templates and some in court practical training and in addition the police prosecutors helped Greg out with court protocols and procedures.
During Greg’s first 2 experiences in court many avoidable problems were encountered such as:-
- The incorrect spelling of a defendants name
- Using name initials on summons instead of the defendants full name
- Addresses taken from council’s rates data base that varied slightly from the addresses given to the police at the time of the offence
- No DOB supplied by the police resulting in children’s court matters being listed in the magistrates court
To work through these problems Greg along with Stuart and Julie Poll from Bendigo, through word of mouth, formed a loose group to discuss these problems and propose ways to rectify them.
The primary reasons for them forming the group was:-
- To support each other and offer advice and help
- To share knowledge
- Become competent in court
- Establish some credibility with the magistrates
- Be able to be a source of information for new authorised officers starting to prosecute
- Be able to advise authorised officers not prosecuting how to prepare a full brief of evidence
The first meeting of the group was held in July of 2007, in attendance was:-
- Greg McKay Bendigo
- Julie Poll Bendigo
- Stuart Stevens Campaspe
- Mario Casha Mitchell Shire
- John Bauer Surfcoast Shire
- Mark Eade Shepparton
- Mark Osborne Queenscliffe
- Stephen Braithwaite Macedon
- Veronica Abbott Mt Alexander
- Vin Maloney Nillumbik
- Phil Lovelace Nillumbik
Of this group only Stuart Stevens, Phil Lovelace and Mario Casha had had any experience in prosecuting in front of a magistrate.
Since that initial meeting 15 other meetings have been held with over 30 officers from both metropolitan and regional councils attending the last 2.
One of main achievements towards obtaining the goals that were set when establishing the group was the development of a basic prosecution manual that is made available to all council authorised officers covering topics inclusive of:-
- How to compile a simple brief of evidence
- How to put a summons together, lodge and serve it
- In the courtroom
- Issues arising from court
- Useful procedures
- Brief Examples
Having a knowledge of how to compile a brief of evidence to prove elements of an offence arms ALL council investigations officers albeit form Health, Building, Local Laws or Planning with the skill set to conduct an investigation competently.
Many councils use outside prosecuting agencies or law firms to conduct prosecutions on their behalf and we believe that the manual can be used by council officers to compile a professional brief to present to these agencies and law firms for them to prosecute.
Having now achieved most of the goals we set ourselves when establishing the group we are now in the position where we are considering setting ourselves up as an association with a live website forum.