The High Court has blocked the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption from investigating Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.
A majority of the full court held that the watchdog has no power to conduct an inquiry into allegations made against Cunneen as the alleged conduct was not ‘corrupt conduct’, as defined in the ICAC legislation.
Cunneen was accused of advising Sophia Tilley, her son’s girlfriend, to fake chest pains following a car accident in order to avoid a breathalyser test in May last year.
Cunneen commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court of New South Wales last year, seeking a declaration that the inquiry was beyond ICAC’s powers. The proceedings were dismissed, but an appeal was allowed by the Court of Appeal. Blocked from investigating the allegations, ICAC took the matter to the High Court, which unanimously granted special leave, but dismissed the appeal by a majority.
In a judgment summary issued this morning, the High Court said, “The alleged conduct did not concern the exercise of the first respondent's official functions as a Crown Prosecutor. ICAC contended that the alleged conduct was corrupt conduct because it could adversely affect the exercise of official functions by the investigating police officers and by a court that would deal with any charges arising from the motor vehicle accident…The alleged conduct was not conduct that could adversely affect the probity of the exercise of an official function by a public official.”