Friday, June 21, 2024

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HomeIssue 18Rolfe bail application under exclusion of the public

Rolfe bail application under exclusion of the public

“Decorated constable Zachary Rolfe, who served with the Australian Army in Afghanistan,” as The Australian newspaper describes him, as do many other media, applied for bail after being charged with the murder of Kumunjayi Walker.
A hearing by phone was arranged outside court office hours with an on-call judge, apparently late on November 13, and bail was granted.
There is a presumption that bail will be denied in the case of a murder charge: Section 7A of the Bail Act states: “Presumption against bail for certain offences, (1) This section applies to the following offences: (a) murder” which is followed by several other categories of offences.
That means the Rolfe’s defence counsel would  have had to present a very compelling case for bail and the Crown would have vigorously opposed bail.
However, we have no idea of what was said, because there is no recording by the court of that telephone conversation which means a court transcript cannot be produced. Nor could journalists listen to the recording (for which in normal circumstances they can apply to get approval).
So, regarding this alleged crime that has been the talk of the town since it occurred on November 9, and its extreme seriousness, the question arises: What was the extraordinary hurry?
The following morning the bail application could have been heard in open court.
Members of the public and the media could have been present: They could have heard what was said to the judge by the prosecutor (including a brief outline of the facts leading to the charge), and by the accused’s legal representative (the reasons why bail should be granted).
The public and media could have heard in turn the judge’s decision on bail, including its conditions.
As it was, Rolfe flew out the next day, final destination Canberra. On full pay. Bail conditions, unknown.
Compare that, for example, with Aboriginal man Julian Williams who back in 2009  and together with Graham Woods, also Aboriginal, was on an identical charge to that of Rolfe – murder – while equally deserving the presumption of innocence.
Both Williams and Woods were kept on remand: that means they were in prison, for two years until their trial was finally conducted.
Mr Woods was found guilty of manslaughter. But Williams was acquitted: An innocent man had his freedom taken for two years.
The way our justice system is dealing with Rolfe’s freedom is entirely different.
The police has made it clear, in a media release that doesn’t even mention Rolfe’s name, it will give no further details: “As this matter is before the court, no further information will be released.”
And that of course includes any role of the police in the bail application.
Next steps in the case against Rolfe are “mentions” on December 12 and 19. These will be about  procedural issues, which could include where the case should be heard, in Alice Springs or Darwin, most likely not before next year.
Meanwhile the Police Federation of Australia – representing all the police unions around Australia – has said in a media release that it “condemns the recent charging of Constable Zach Rolfe … following an incident in the course of his duties.
“Members of all police forces around the country are undoubtedly shocked, however, Constable Rolfe has made it clear that he will plead not guilty and vigorously contest the charge.”
“Condemns” the charge?
Are Mark Carroll, the president of the Police Federation, and Scott Weber, the CEO, of the view that police officers are above the law, even if the Director of Public Prosecutions has approved the laying of a charge, as the News understands was the case here?
Related reading: Mass rally shows fury, distrust for police, government.
Photo: Const Rolfe pictured in The Australian.


  1. Or Murdoch being charged with a murder he denies and one without a body.
    Lots of cases are different.
    I can imagine that the next police officer who shoots and kills someone in the line of duty, similar deals will be done.

  2. Thank you Alice Springs News.
    Your report was much more accurate and researched than the other east coast opinion tabloids that have been circulated recently.
    Well done.

  3. “Members of all police forces around the country are undoubtedly shocked.” Of course, but the public around Central Australia is shocked.
    Can we trust our police officers? Until we know the truth we cannot.

  4. With all due respect. The Australian’s reporting of this incident, and for that matter the reporting of every other mainstream media outlet, gave full and fair coverage – sensationalistic coverage, in fact – to the community’s outrage.
    From the very first moment that the news broke, it was reported with very heavy implication that it was a racial incident. With hatred of police thrown in.
    Anyone who dared to suggest otherwise ran a serious risk of accusations of racism.
    Two young men were central to this incident. The dead Young man will rightly be respected and honoured in death. As should be by family and friends and community.
    However, the one who has been charged with murder (very hastily it would seem for political reasons), is now firmly stereotyped as a white racist.
    His pic has been emblazoned on the front pages and we know him as a white twenties lad with tattoos from a white well-off family.
    He has been condemned automatically by at least 50% of the population.
    I will be very interested to see if his trial will be by jury or judge alone.
    I think a jury trial would not guarantee a fair trial.
    Media attention to the different treatment he has been accorded will only make a fair trial by jury even more doubtful.

  5. Comparing two separate cases regarding bail is not valid. As the Act states, each is to be judged on its own merits. They cannot be compared.
    Every person refused bail by police, they have a right to review with a judge. Most choose to wait until physical court. Some choose to apply by phone.
    It is the criteria within the act that is considered in each individual case. Each person’s applicable criteria is always different in each and every case.

  6. John Bell: “Two young men were central to this incident?”
    No, three young men are central to the incident. The one never mentioned is the partner of the accused.

  7. By coincidence on almost the same day as this event a gathering of police chiefs in America were considering the matter of police shootings in the USA.
    Reported in the NY Times 125 people have been shot in confrontations with police in a year.
    The article concluded that nobody wins in these circumstances.
    Hopefully any inquiry will draw on the American experience in making recommendations to avoid any repetition.

  8. @ Evelyne Roullet: I respect your comment Evelyne.
    However, the third person is only “central” to the incident in the fact that he is a witness whose account may or may not be given weight to find guilty or acquit.
    My point is that the two central young men have been impossibly captured and trapped by the media and stereotyped into opposing racial camps.
    The media cannot help itself. Sensationalism that only exacerbates the bitterness and attracts readers and viewers.

  9. Very very apposite comments about the Police Union’s reaction. Nobody, especially police, is above the law. The charges must have been laid on the evidence.

  10. @ Peter Dixon: “The charges must have been laid on the evidence.”
    Not necessarily. Peter, I agree with you that police are not above the law.
    But the question here is – why was the charge of murder laid so quickly? There is a whiff of NT government influence here. In the highly volatile immediate community reaction at the time, so hastily laying the most serious charge of murder, rather than say, manslaughter, it is not a quantum leap to think that police were leaned on by the NT government to try to defuse and placate the community anger.
    Down here in Victoria, when 26 government MPs were found by Ombudsman Deborah Glass to have rorted (i.e. misappropriated) public funds of $300,000 to pay Red Shirt volunteers to win the 2014 election, Andrews refused to allow the police to interview them.
    They were never charged and sit in Parliament scot free today. The same major party is in government in Victoria and the NT.
    Who is to say that the NT police were not leaned on in a similar manner by Mr Gunner?


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