By ERWIN CHLANDA
“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.