Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 8 December 2004) . . Page.. 130 ..
there is what we would say is a conflict of interest situation. I am not going into the evidence; that is a matter for the public record; that has happened elsewhere; that is not of concern to me.
My concern is the role of this attorney and what he has done in terms of this inquest by joining in an appeal that nine other people have taken. They are quite entitled to do so—and I make no comment on that. What I am saying is that there is no precedent to show that this has ever occurred before. We are saying it contravenes the separation of powers; it is an extraordinary step; and hence this motion. I am not concerned in this debate as to what occurred in terms of evidence before the coronial inquest; that is a matter subject to appeal. I am concerned about the principle, the role of the Attorney, what he should or should not have done here and what he has done, which we say is wrong.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I am not going to permit debate that goes to the issue of conflict of interest, because it is almost certainly going to be raised in court.
MR STEFANIAK: With respect, Mr Speaker, all I am saying with regard to a conflict of interest is that we say there is one. I do not go any further than that, and I am not going to get into the substantive debate.
MR SPEAKER: Discontinue the line, Mr Stefaniak, or I will order you to resume your seat.
MR STEFANIAK: Let me go onto something else, about the role of the Attorney, and maybe we can come back to that. No, let me go a little bit further—putting aside what this attorney has or has not done at this stage—into what a coronial inquest is all about, which I think, quite clearly, he does not properly understand.
A coronial inquest is an inquisitorial process; the coroner is an investigator. He or she is not like a judge or a magistrate in a normal case who just sits there, assesses evidence and makes rulings. Judges and magistrates do not, as a matter of course, go to the scene of a crime, but a coroner does. The role of a coroner is something very similar to an investigative magistrate in the continental system—for example, France. Again, I am quoting largely here from Dr Freckleton, so do not take my word for it. He says that coroners do have to give warnings; they have to keep inquests going and they have to keep parties in line. A coronial inquest is a quest for truth. A coronial inquest also has natural justice considerations.
That is why, as I said earlier, if the coroner is going to give any adverse findings, the coroner invariably has to ask the parties to look at that beforehand—before giving submissions. The coroner has to ensure that what those parties have put in writing, for example, is included. That is a natural justice provision. He says that the coroner has to find out who died, when, where and how. Another essential part of the inquest is the power of the coroner to make comments and recommendations.
They can be ignored by governments. The coroner does not jail anyone, fine anyone or anything like that. Recommendations made by coroners can be ignored by governments, but they tend not to be ignored. The recommendations are often powerful and are often not ignored. Coroners have been involved in fires in Australia, as in most jurisdictions. Dr Freckleton said—and I cannot find it—that he was not aware of any comparable