Last Friday was not a good one for the Western Australian Office of the DPP.  Its conduct in a case involving a young man aged 17, who had been given a two-year suspended sentence after being found guilty of a serious assault that resulted in the death of the victim, was described by the Western Australian Chief Justice Wayne Martin as a “a conspicuous departure from appropriate prosecutorial conduct”, and as “patently indefensible”.

The case known as State of WA v JWRL was a high-profile one in Perth. Steven Rowe, a 17-year-old, was killed in 2008 after a fight in a suburban park. Rowe was bashed over the head with a garden stake by the defendant, who cannot be named because he was not 18 at the date of the offence. A widely reported Supreme Court trial in 2009 saw a jury acquit JWRL of murder and manslaughter but find him guilty of assault.

The case was yet another from the West that involved the prosecution failing in its duty to disclose all relevant evidence to the defence. This has been a common theme in a handful of high-profile Western Australian criminal trials over the years — one involving Andrew Mallard, a man wrongfully convicted in 1995 of murder, being the most prominent.  Here the DPP’s office received new information from a witness shortly before the trial but did not disclose this to the defence.

Chief Justice Martin described the DPP’s office’s conduct as patently unjustifiable and that it was a “conspicuous departure from appropriate prosecutorial conduct”.

Of other submissions made in the appeal by the DPP Chief Justice Martin peppered his judgment with words such as “pedantic” and “utterly without foundation”.  He described another submission as “extraordinary”.

The DPP’s appeal in this case was argued by one of WA’s most senior prosecutors, Bruno Fiannaca, who has prosecuted former premier Brian Burke and who ironically argued the appeal on behalf of the state against the overturning of Mallard’s conviction by the High Court in 2005.

Given the fact that the state’s most senior judge is so relentlessly scathing of the conduct of DPP’s office in the JWRL trial and thought its appeal was without any merit, WA Attorney-General Christian Porter, a former prosecutor himself, might care to ask some very hard questions of the office responsible for running the state’s criminal cases.

With the JWRL decision, the roll call of miscarriages of justice in WA just grew by one — and that’s one too many.