“Malicious prosecution”: Court rules police misconduct involved in prosecution of an innocent Indigenous man jailed for five years

14 December 2021
Townsville man Terry Irving’s 28-year battle for justice is almost over after Queensland’s Court of Appeal today ruled he was maliciously prosecuted by police in a notorious case which saw him wrongly jailed for 1671 days over a north Queensland bank robbery he did not commit.

The decision means Mr Irving could finally receive compensation for the police’s appalling misconduct. His damages will now be determined by the Supreme Court.

Mr Irving, who was prosecuted for the armed robbery of an ANZ Bank in Cairns in 1993, had his criminal conviction overturned by the High Court in December 1997 when it was found that he did not receive a fair trial and was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

Police initially arrested and charged Mr Irving with being an accessory to the robbery, which the Court of Appeal today ruled was a malicious prosecution as there were no reasonable grounds for the charge.

“From the outset, police did not follow their own guidelines and denied me natural justice, a fact conceded by Crown Law in their submissions to the High Court of Australia in 1997,” Mr Irving said.  

Mr Irving, who is an Indigenous man, said racism was identified as a factor in his wrongful conviction and continues to be a major issue when it comes to wrongful convictions in Australia more generally.

“The police culture at the time of my conviction meant that they could do whatever they wanted to secure a conviction, including perverting the course of justice. I’m not the first indigenous man to have been prosecuted by police because of their prejudices about the colour of our skin.”

“Aboriginal people continue to be over represented in the Australian prison population and we continue to confront very particular challenges in having wrongful convictions recognised and remedied,” Mr Irving said.

“Skin colour was a critical feature in the false identification in my case, this included the exclusion by police of identity descriptors that were non-race based, such as age height and build and the inclusion of skin colour as an identifying descriptor.”

Melissa Meyers, a Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers which represented Mr Irving in his civil action, said it was clear from the Court of Appeal decision handed down today and the High Court decision that overturned his conviction that there were very serious problems with the police prosecution.

“In Terry’s case it was clearly shown that QPS Guidelines were ignored and that there was cherry-picking of evidence. and the downplaying or deliberate omission of evidence. Today the Queensland Court of Appeal agreed with us that there was an abuse of power by police and Terry’s compensation will now be determined by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, no amount of compensation can take away from the emotional and physical abuse that he suffered whilst falsely imprisoned for a crime he did not commit,” Ms Meyers said.   

“One of the key features of the case is how long it has taken for Terry to achieve justice. Too often vulnerable people are excluded from the justice system because of the prohibitive costs to fight for justice over such an extended period.”

“Access to justice must be available to the vulnerable members of our community, which is why Maurice Blackburn will continue to support people like Terry to pursue their legal rights within the judicial system.”

Media inquiries: Paddy Murphy on 0490 297 391 or pmurphy@mauriceblackburn.com.au