Bikie brawlers let off by loophole
From: Sunday Mail (SA)
March 24, 2012
THE State Government has been asked to close a legal loophole that allowed 10 Hells Angels to escape charges.
Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Pallaras, QC, has confirmed he met Attorney-General John Rau to discuss a flaw in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act relating to charges of riot, affray and violent disorder, after the dramatic development in the high-profile bikie case this month.
Aggravated riot charges were dropped on March 1 against all Hells Angels members involved in the city nightclub brawl in Hindley St last May.
Eleven members and associates of the Finks also involved in the brawl are still facing similar charges.
No explanation was given why the prosecution withdrew charges against the Hells Angels members. The Sunday Mail has since learnt they were dropped because the Hells Angels could have argued they acted in self-defence after they were set upon by Finks bikies, which would have seen the case against them fail.
CCTV footage of the club brawl allegedly shows the Finks were the aggressors, even though both gangs continued fighting for some time.
Mr Pallaras said he met Mr Rau because he wanted to "alert him to my concerns" and to "try and solve the problem before it occurs again".
"I can't talk about the specifics of the meeting but ... I discussed with him some views I had on how we might avoid similar results in future cases," he said. Although he would not comment on the dropping of the Hells Angels charges as the matter is still before court, Mr Pallaras said: "Legally, it was clear that we had to do it.
"It was difficult in a sense that it highlighted the fact we may have problems in the future with the legislation as it currently stands. The solution is not easy."
Mr Rau confirmed Mr Pallaras raised "serious concerns" with him at the effectiveness of the legislation.
"I want to make sure that offenders who engage in this sort of behaviour are able to be prosecuted," he said.
"I am anticipating advice from the DPP about ways to tighten the law. Any recommendations will be taken to Cabinet level for consideration."
It is understood any amendments to the Act will revolve around the definition of self-defence. The Government amended the Criminal Law Consolidation Act in 2010 to introduce new offences of riot, affray and violent disorder as part of its package of legislation to combat bikie gangs.
The offence of riot carries a maximum penalty of seven years' jail and the aggravated offence carries a maximum 10-year term. Affray carries a maximum three-year term, aggravated affray five years and violent disorder two years or a $10,000 fine.
Senior police declined to comment on the loophole in the Act, but it is known SAPOL has been asked to write a submission on any changes that may be needed to the legislation following discussions with the DPP.
Rank-and-file detectives involved in policing bikies are bewildered at the loophole. "We were initially astounded when the charges were withdrawn," a senior detective said.
"Often we may not know who started an altercation involving gang members and only find out after they have been charged, so it presents a unique problem that needs to be sorted out."