A case that should worry all Queenslanders
THE tacky, disturbing and totally unnecessary case of Bruce Rowe versus misplaced authority came to an end in the District Court on Monday. Well, it could have, although Constable Benjamin Arndt, who was found guilty of assaulting Rowe in 2006 in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, could appeal to the Supreme Court or, conceivably, beyond.
The immovable Rowe, who turned 71 on Sunday, was a comparative stripling of 65 when he crossed paths with Arndt and a bunch of other police about 9 o'clock on the night of July 9, five-and-a-half years ago.
In an incident that was widely seen on TV (and is still out there on YouTube), Rowe was arrested, charged and convicted of obstructing police and failing to obey a police order after a disagreement that began in the public toilets and ended with him being held down by four officers and kneed by another.
It dragged through the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Court of Appeal. The first court convicted Rowe, the second confirmed the conviction but the third overturned it.
The rematch came in the Magistrates Court in February when Rowe launched a private prosecution resulting in Arndt being found guilty of assaulting Rowe, fined $1000 and ordered to pay him $2250 court costs, although no conviction was recorded.
The established forces of investigation or law and order were conspicuous by their absence.
Then Arndt disputed the magistrate's findings but this week Judge Brian Devereaux tossed out the appeal. Watch this space.
The appeal largely revolved around claims that magistrate Linda Bradford-Morgan had relied on information extraneous to the case.
Arndt argued that the wrongful consideration of extraneous materials constituted a substantial miscarriage of the Magistrates Court trial, justice was not seen to be done and the trial was not conducted according to law.
Judge Devereaux was sympathetic to a point but decided it was open to the magistrate to convict Arndt on the original evidence without the distraction of the extraneous material.
He watched the distasteful video "many times" and declared: "It is unnecessary to say I reach precisely the same conclusions ... having due regard to the findings and conclusions of the magistrate but mindful of the errors I have found in her honour's reasoning, I have formed my own conclusion that the force used in the application of the four knee strikes was not authorised or justified or excused by law. "It was unlawful because it was not reasonably necessary and was unjustified in the circumstances."
How did it all come to this and why did it take so long to resolve?
Had Rowe been just another homeless, friendless and vulnerable man it might have been a simple issue resolved in court just after the morning drunks' parade.
In nine cases out of 10, that might have happened. However Rowe, although grieving and troubled, was also a stubborn and courageous man who refused to take a step backwards in the face of what he perceived as injustice.
He ultimately turned out to be more than capable of looking after himself and seeking justice. Perhaps, it is the other nine out of 10 cases we should be worried about.
At the time of Arndt's assault case, Police Union president Ian Leavers expressed concern that the conviction had "dire consequences for all police officers doing their job". "I am very, very concerned now that police officers across the state will be reluctant to do their job and the community will suffer," Leavers said.
It is a seductive sentiment for those who haven't the wit or the humility to ever imagine themselves in Rowe's shoes. However, it is ultimately even more harmful to the community to pretend that police cannot do their job without breaking the law.
And it is an affront to the thousands of police who do manage to do their difficult jobs without breaking the letter or the spirit of the law and apply the police motto of "With honour we serve" to all citizens, regardless of their station or their situation.
Equally worrying is that justice was delivered despite, not because of, the Police Ethical Standards Command and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which found there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the police officers over the incident.
Subsequent court findings that Rowe was not only innocent but had been unlawfully roughed up must raise questions about the quality and diligence of both investigations.
Had it not been for the toughness and pigheadedness of Rowe, whose "age and slight frame" were noted by the magistrate, a serious wrong would have gone unpunished.
Had it not been for the video evidence, his might have been the feeble voice of an ordinary man who had fallen on hard times against that of police.
The inadequacies of the investigations into this event - and similar failings and inconsistencies in many others - are hardly likely to inspire confidence among the public or the police, who have an equal entitlement to justice.
The Roman poet Juvenal is credited with asking "Who will guard the guardians?" We are yet to adequately answer that, but surely it is not a 71-year-old man.