Chain Of Command

Release date: 1/08/2015

Australasian Transport News, by Brad Gardner, 1 August 2015

One of Victoria's top cops concedes the state needs to do better on chain of responsibility prosecutions, so he's putting forward a plan to improve its success rate.

Bernie Rankin is blunt. Perhaps more than he would like to be.

"We haven't had a lot of successful COR [chain of responsibility] prosecutions."

But what's the alternative? He's right and at the moment, with the crowd that is in front of him, he's unlikely to get away with saying something to the contrary.

That's because the detective inspector, who leads the state's 25-member transport investigations unit that deals with COR, is seated before a room full of Transport Workers Union (TWU) representatives.

The very same representatives who for some time have watched as truck drivers at the coalface have worn the brunt of enforcement activities throughout Australia, while the parties responsible for imposing tight schedules or incorrectly loading a rig have walked away with not even a warning.

But the lack of successful prosecutions is not through lack of will.

"Trust me, I would love to be able to prosecute for a good, serious chain of responsibility offence," Rankin says.

To do that, Rankin needs people willing to testify.

He says it is a key determination in whether a prosecution goes ahead, but there is reluctance among the trucking fraternity to offer more than anecdotal evidence of wrongdoing.

"From a driver's point of view, they'll often tell us things off the record. Companies will tell us some of the pressures they're receiving from big distributors, but being told something and being able to mount a prosecution are two different things," Rankin tells v4r7V: "If there is an opportunity to prosecute we will prosecute, but we do find that because of the cost of losing contracts and drivers losing their jobs, sometimes there's not a preparedness for people to go to the next step and actually involve themselves in a prosecution where they are giving evidence."

Rankin concedes the situation is creating an impasse when it comes to progressing COR investigations and prosecutions.

But while getting people to testify is crucial, it is also just one piece of the puzzle that Victoria Police needs if it hopes to prosecute a COR case.

Rankin likens the work involved in a COR investigation and prosecution to a very complex fraud inquiry due to the amount of work involved.

"You rely on witnesses, you rely on written work, you rely on electronic data, all those sorts of things. To make up a full piece of evidence it has got to be of the sufficient standard to satisfy a court, and that's a complex investigation," he says.

"Now sometimes without that type of evidence it is futile mounting a prosecution."

Rankin says Victoria Police cannot get into the habit of mounting prosecutions if it does not like its chances of success.

It's not hard to see why. While Victoria Police has had some wins on COR, it has also been on the receiving end of failed prosecutions.

"We've had prosecutions that have failed in this state and the costs that are awarded against us as the prosecuting authority are horrendous. It's nothing to get $60,000 awarded against you, which comes off your budget, if you mount an unsuccessful COR prosecution," he says.

"So of course we've got to be certain we've got the evidence before we mount a COR prosecution."

But even with all the evidence in hand, it is no certainty Victoria Police will walk away with a victory - and Rankin puts that He says: "some magistrates and judges have trouble coming to grips" with COR, given that the issue does not go before them on a regular basis.

"They don't deal with it every day. They have burglars in front of them every day, they have people who assault people in front o From a driver's point of view, they'll often tell us things off the record.

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