The top prosecutor in the Northern Territory has defended the decision to pursue disorderly conduct charges against a woman who had just been sexually assaulted in Darwin earlier this year.
- The DPP agreed Cecelia* was sexually assaulted before the outburst which sparked the disorderly conduct charge
- But they said charges were assessed on the strength of the evidence and whether it was in the public interest
- A women’s legal group expressed concern about “systems abuse” that could disempower victim-survivors
The 34-year-old woman pleaded guilty in the Darwin Local Court last week after Aboriginal legal aid lawyers failed in their bid to have the charge against her withdrawn.
The prosecution agreed Cecelia* had been sexually assaulted by an unknown person in a nearby park moments before she tried to board a bus in the Darwin suburb of Casuarina in January.
She was arrested for disorderly conduct after becoming “highly distressed” and agitated and swearing at transit officers who removed her from the bus because she could not find her ticket.
But the court heard that the prosecutor’s office had rejected the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency’s request that the charge be withdrawn.
DPP pursues matters ‘in the public interest’
The office of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jack Karczewski QC, did not directly respond to questions about why the pursuit of the case was considered to be in the public interest.
In a statement, the office of the DPP said decisions were made according to the director’s guidelines, including an assessment of the evidence and “if it is in the public interest to proceed”.
“The offending also affected the work of Transport Safety Officers and people using public transport.”
The guidelines say discretionary factors can dictate whether a matter should proceed, including the culpability of the offender and any mitigating circumstances.
The DPP did not respond to questions about whether the decision to pursue charges against Cecelia was reviewed at any point during the six-month legal process.
Concerns flagged over ‘systems abuse’
The case drew comment from the Top End Women’s Legal Service, which expressed “great concern” about what senior solicitor Caitlin Weatherby-Fells described as “potential systems abuse”.
“Or it could be where the offender themselves uses a legal system to perpetuate further violence, such as initiating court proceedings where there’s no merit, purely to have the victim-survivor be involved in that process for an extended period of time.
“Both of those types of systems abuse contribute to more victim-survivors in the future not wanting to report these matters, which in and of itself is a failure of the legal system.”
Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the the case.
NT Police did not respond to a request for comment.
*Name has been changed