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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Victorian Police leak no breach of "legal duty"

Victorian Police operate under a more forgiving law than Federal public servants regarding disclosure of information acquired in the course of duties.

The Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer did not breach regulations when she responded to a request from a friend wishing to contest a speeding charge by sending copies of police manuals for the operation of speed detection devices. It didn't matter that the officer in passing them on, included a note "just remember you didn't get them from me."

The decision in DPP v Zierk (2008) VSC 184 involved the application of a regulation that provided: "Any member of the police force who publishes or communicates, except to some person to whom he is authorised to publish or communicate it, any fact or document which comes to his knowledge or into his possession by virtue of his office and which it is his duty not to disclose shall be guilty of an offence against this Act and liable to a fine of not more than 20 penalty units."

Chief Justice Warren decided that disclosure was unauthorised- Police policy was that publications must not be released " before seeking advice from the Freedom of Information Unit"-but there was no evidence that the officer was under any statutory duty not to disclose the manuals, or that disclosure involved a breach of the common law in the discharge of duties of office. The information disclosed was either freely available or available by application, and disclosure had not in any way jeopardised police functions.

The Chief Justice noted that while it was arguable that there had been a breach of discipline, this did not involve a breach of legal duty, particularly as officers were encouraged to apply policies using common sense, initiative and judgment.

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