The Kumanjayi Walker inquest has finished its fourth week of evidence shrouded in questions of procedural fairness, following revelations one of the legal teams might have a conflict of interest.
Concerns have been raised about counsel representing both a senior police officer and the Immediate Response Team
Coroner Elizabeth Armitage told the court of conflict of interest could have been the planned
The inquest into Kumanjayi Walker’s death will resume on October 10
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died, used with the permission of their family.
Yesterday, the inquest heard candid evidence from a senior member of the Northern Territory police force that racism could be a “broader issue” in the NT police force.
Superintendent Jody Nobbs further told the coroner that he did not believe the specialist police group Constable Zachary Rolfe was part of followed the plan he had designed on the night that Mr Walker was fatally shot in 2019.
Constable Rolfe has been found not guilty of three charges relating to the 19 year old’s death.
The “matter of fundamental fairness” was raised by Ian Freckleton AO KC, counsel for the Northern Territory Police.
The coroner heard he did not feel he could adequately represent every member of the force who was due to give evidence in proceedings.
“Those affected by what was said yesterday, how it was said yesterday and what … may be said today are entitled to assertive representation,” Dr Freckleton told the coroner.
“We would be deeply troubled, if any of the members of the Northern Police Force were not adequately and assertively represented, throughout these proceedings, when matters touch upon various members, in very potent ways, given the language that has been employed.”
At inquests, counsels represent their client’s interests during proceedings and have the right to cross examine with those interests in mind and raise objections on their behalf.
There are eight parties in this coronal inquest.
Superintendent Nobbs was due to continue giving evidence today but given the concerns, was asked to return at a later date.
‘A conflict has arisen’
Yesterday, the coroner heard Constable Rolfe was deployed to Yuendumu to arrest Mr Walker and carry out general policing duties as part of the specialized Immediate Response Team (IRT).
As the person who designed that plan, Superintendent Nobbs gave evidence he did not believe his plan was followed the night that Mr Walker died.
The coroner heard from Constable Rolfe’s counsel, David Edwardson KC that Dr Freckleton’s position “became obvious in extreme,” during yesterday’s evidence given the senior officer expressed opinions about the IRT’s conduct, and Dr Freckleton currently represents both the IRT and Superintendent Nobbs.
“A conflict has arisen such that members of the IRT team are now exposed in a way that is obvious,” Mr Edwardson KC told the coroner.
Counsel assisting Patrick Coleridge told the coroner “it would be apparent to any competent lawyer reading that brief, that the individual who was instrumental in developing the plan might have opinions about how the plan was executed”.
Coroner Elisabeth Armitage agreed and said she would have thought the nature of Superintendent Nobbs’ evidence could have been anticipated.
The inquest heard brief evidence from Senior Sergeant Shaun Furniss before adjourning for a week-long break, over which the coroner said she hoped these matters would “be sorted out”.
The three-month inquiry has already stretched well beyond its original time frame.
Originally set down to finish at the end of November, evidence is now expected to be heard into December and some planned breaks have become sitting days.
The inquest will tomorrow hear legal arguments in relation to objections raised by Constable Rolfe’s barristers at the beginning of proceedings, before wirnesses are called from October 10.