Prosecutor out of control, says top QC

Victims’ advocate backs Rapke
LEADING Melbourne QC Robert Richter has launched a savage attack on Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke, QC, saying that he should resign “if this is the best he can do”.
He accused Mr Rapke of running a popularity contest and political campaigns in the media. He said Mr Rapke’s public and repeated attacks on the independent bar undermined the part of the system designed to counterbalance “his prosecutorial zeal – which, left unopposed, leads to the danger of prosecutor becoming persecutor”.
In an article on today’s opinion page Mr Richter, a former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, says of Mr Rapke: “He has assigned himself the role of judge as well as prosecutor, which happens sometimes with those who become arrogant enough to believe only they pursue the guilty. It seems a shock to his certitude that juries of decent citizens sometimes tell him he is wrong.”
Responding to a call by Mr Rapke to abolish committal hearings, Mr Richter said the High Court had many times affirmed the importance of committals. “If this is the best he can do, he should resign.”
Mr Rapke declined to respond yesterday. Mr Richter’s attack followed Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren publicly rebuking Mr Rapke on Monday for saying that he sometimes called up judges who he felt had made insensitive remarks about victims.
In other developments yesterday a victims’ advocate strongly backed Mr Rapke, and a senior barrister challenged Mr Rapke’s account of a court case that allegedly involved a judge being insensitive.
Mr Rapke had told The Age that a young man had died at work and it was decided to prosecute even though the company involved had gone into liquidation.
Mr Rapke said the judge had asked why the case had been pursued, and when told that it was because it involved a death, said, “That doesn’t mean anything.” The victim’s mother had left the court in tears, Mr Rapke said.
Transcript of the County Court trial before Judge John Barnett shows a different context.
The judge had queried why the case was being run five years after the death, with the company responsible already in liquidation. He questioned whether such “political correctness” was appropriate in the face of an “overstuffed list”.
Trying to explain the delay, the prosecutor said, “There was a death …”
The judge: “That doesn’t mean much …
The prosecutor: “Sorry?”
The judge: “That doesn’t mean much in terms of slowing down the procedures.”
Tim Tobin, SC, yesterday told The Age the dead man was actually in his 50s and that his wife, who attended court, did not leave in tears.
Mr Tobin said he acted for a labour-hire firm, which was also charged even though it had merely sent the man to the site where he died. The site was run by the company in liquidation.
“We had said there’s no case against us, and it went for four days and the judge said ‘no case’.
“That case could have been done in a day but it wasted five days of court time on something that they could never win because there was absolutely no liability that could apply to that agency,” Mr Tobin said.
Crime Victims Support Association president, Noel McNamara, said judges were too unaccountable but that Mr Rapke had “stepped up to the plate; we are right behind him”.

First published in The Age.