South Australia’s new DPP, Stephen Pallaras, is getting a
quick lesson in the odd way in which the separation of the judicial and
executive wings of government operates in the festival state.

Prominent local barrister Eugene McGee could face further
charges over a fatal hit-and-run incident, after a quick and cheap Royal
Commission strongly criticised the police’s handling of the matter.

In findings handed down last week, Sydney silk Greg James found the police investigation on the night McGee hit
and killed a cyclist was confused and lacked direction. While no special
treatment was given to the former police prosecutor McGee, James called for
broad changes to the plods’ procedures and the creation of new driving offences,
as well as tougher penalties for existing crimes.

Pallaras has to consider a secret report on whether McGee
or others should face further criminal charges.

Three people are under the gun in the wake of the Commission
– McGee and his brother, who feasibly could be charged with perverting the
course of justice – and Pallaras himself, who has overseen an unprecedented
in relations between his office and the government.

Premier Mike Rann declared earlier this month that ministers
should only deal with the DPP in writing. The Liberals say the justice system
is now dysfunctional.
Adelaide’s legal community and political hacks say it seems as if Pallaras, who
has attempted to assert his independence in the few months he’s held the job,
has to nail the McGees – or he’ll be history.

The government has beaten the DPP’s office and the legal
profession before – in the Nemer case, a plea bargain struck with a young man
who shot a newsagent on his morning rounds. The deal created uproar and left
the government’s law and order credentials gleaming.

Rann has already said the findings had reinforced his
decision to hold the inquiry. He has described the second, confidential report
containing evidence that may support further charges against McGee and his
brother as “quite extraordinary.”

Pollies versus lawyers. All the options are looking good for
the premier.

It’s understood that the secret report recommends a certain
course of action. Pallaras says its recommendations are being examined – but if
he doesn’t walk the walk, the government can get a more agreeable overriding
opinion from the Solicitor-General, bag the legal profession still harder and
put an ever tighter grip on the DPP.

What could be a better way of buffing up the laura norder
cred before next March’s election?

Peter Fray

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