Victoria Police to commence public review following racial discrimination court settlement

Victoria Police will commence a public inquiry aimed at stamping out racial profiling in police practices as a condition of an agreed out of court settlement in Haile-Michael and Others v Commissioner of Police and Others [Court no. VID 969 of 2010] – a racial discrimination claim brought by Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre and a pro bono legal team on behalf of six young African-Australian men. The settlement was reached on the day the trial was due to start in the Federal Court in Melbourne. Victoria Police acknowledged, in a joint statement read out in the Federal Court, that it has received many complaints of racial discrimination, including the complaints filed by the six applicants who alleged they were targeted for arbitrary stops (also known as street checks or “field contact”), police searches, assaults and racial abuse.

Victoria Police has agreed to a public review of field contact policy, the collection of data about field contacts and Victoria Police’s current cross-cultural training program. It will report on the results and its intended response by the end of this year.

Melbourne University Professor Ian Gordon, commissioned on behalf of the six complainants, analysed the police LEAP database, and found that African men in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to have their interactions recorded by police than the rest of the population, and that, according to the database, African men in the area committed significantly fewer crimes than men of other ethnicities.

Tamar Hopkins, Principal Solicitor Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre, said the claimants deserved to be acknowledged as true champions of justice.

“They have stood up to what they and their community maintain has been years of ongoing and systemic racial discrimination meted out by Victoria Police,” she said.

Peter Seidel Public Interest Law Partner at Arnold Bloch Leibler, was encouraged by the Police’s cooperation and frankness during the settlement, a welcome change after failed pre-trial negotiations in 2010, which demotivated many of the original complainants.

“It is obvious that past reviews into relations between African-Australian community in Flemington and the police have failed dismally,” he said. “The announcement of this enquiry is a watershed moment in Victoria’s history, which will benefit both Victoria Police and the community generally, particularly minority groups.”

Anthony Kelly, Executive Officer, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre was enthusiastic about the possibilities the enquiry offers, stating that “the opportunity exists now for all concerned Victorians to fully engage in the enquiry process, to insist on nothing less than the introduction of clear and transparent laws and policies that prevent the abhorrent things that we say occurred here from ever happening again in the future.”

“International experience confirms that the disease of racial discrimination can and will be exposed through statistical collection and public dissemination of the results, complemented by a stop and search receipting system. Racial profiling must be specifically trained against, and those who engage in it strongly disciplined, with legislative backing” he said.

The case is an excellent example of the use of strategic litigation as an advocacy tool and demonstrates the positive role anti-discrimination legislation can play in addressing broad community concerns. It is hoped that the public inquiry will enable all voices to be heard to eliminate racially discriminatory practices in policing.

The Kensington & Flemington Community Legal Centre and Arnold Bloch Liebler media release is available here.

A copy of the opinion piece by Tamar Hopkins (FKLC) and Peter Siedel (Arnold Bloch Leibler) can be accessed here and an opinion piece by Victoria Police's Chief Commissioner, Ken Lay, can be found here.