Police-related deaths: Report on need for independent body to investigate police-related deaths

In June 2011, the Human Rights Law Centre collaborated with the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Darebin Community Legal Centre and Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre to publish a report entitled Effective, Transparent, Accountable: An Independent System to Investigate Police-Related Deaths in Victoria. Police-related deaths can occur in a range of ways including police shootings, police pursuits and other deaths in police custody. There are on average over 16 police-related deaths every year in Victoria. Despite this, there is no independent agency to investigate those deaths for the State Coroner. Victoria Police has traditionally been responsible for investigating police deaths.

A system in which police investigate police-related deaths undermines public confidence, is fundamentally flawed and a breach of human rights obligations. Jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland, England and Wales, Ontario (Canada) and New Zealand have moved to establish a system under which police related deaths are independently investigated.

In Part 1 of this report, we document the progress that has been made both in Australia and overseas in terms of raising standards in police accountability with the introduction of independent agencies to investigate police-related deaths. The experience in these jurisdictions, which we have witnessed first hand, clearly demonstrates that civilian agencies undertake immediate and effective investigations.

We respond to the traditional arguments that are put forward to resist such reform to modernise our death investigation system in Part 2. In our analysis, establishing an independent investigation system in Victoria would be cost effective, transparent, fair and ultimately in our police officers’ best interests.

While police continue to investigate police-related deaths in Victoria, it will remain as an issue of significant public concern. Our report recommends that the State Government address this concern by strengthening and modernising our death investigation system by establishing and resourcing an independent agency to investigate police-related deaths in Victoria.