Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland must be despairing at the expense of it all.

In June his agency was ordered by Magistrate Peter Couzens to pay 80% of the cost incurred by former Police Association boss Paul Mullett, after Mullett beat perverting the course of justice and misleading the Office of Police Integrity counts. Now Mr Overland can expect an application from Labor MP Theo Theophanous’ lawyers for a costs order to be made against Victoria Police after he won the long running allegations of rape case brought against him.

In both cases, the bills will be sizeable — like into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. While Theophanous was a minister when the allegations were made against him, he won’t be indemnified by the Victorian government for his legal costs because the legal proceedings couldn’t be said to arise out of, or be related to, his performance of public duties as a minister.

But as in the case of Paul Mullett, the taxpayer will be on the hook for the costs anyway.

So what’s a good guess at how much Theophanous’ legal team will seek in costs? His senior lawyer, Robert Richter QC can charge anywhere between $6000 and $12,000 per day — when you are in his category of excellence the fees owed by the client are whatever the market will bear. Richter was assisted by a small team of barristers and solicitors, none of whom would be charging out at less than $1000 per day.

In addition to court time — over three weeks in total — there were months preparation for this case. So a bill of around $350,000 would not be out of the range. Add to that the Mullett costs award and Mr. Overland is looking at shelling out over half a million dollars in two months from the thin cofferes of the Victoria Police. Ouch!

Many in the law and order ranks don’t think successful defendants should be able to claim legal costs against the police. It deters the coppers from prosecuting people, goes the argument.

Actually, on recent evidence it does no such thing, at least in Victoria.

In fact, perhaps consideration could be given to courts being able to order police who investigate who have been shown to have been negligent, careless or vindictive in their conduct of a particular prosecution,  to pay the defendant’s costs themselves.

That would certainly ensure that police investigations were rigorous and fair and not blinded by ulterior motives. And may save Mr Overland a dollar or two.

Peter Fray

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