In 2016, two incidents involving IBAC’s coercive powers were brought to the Victorian Inspectorate’s attention. In both incidents, the health and safety of witnesses was seriously compromised – in one case, with potentially tragic consequences.
This special report finds that at their core, the incidents – one involving attempted suicide, another involving the coercive examination of a witness while her mental state was significantly impaired – resulted from a failure of IBAC’s policies and procedures. The physical layout of IBAC’s premises, and what could reasonably be characterised as onerous security arrangements, contributed to the problem.
IBAC, in its response to a draft of this report, accepts that it has a duty to those who are subject to the exercise of its coercive powers, but has asserted that it does not accept some of the conclusions reached in relation to particular incidents. The Inspectorate has set out in the report their specific responses and explained why it disagrees.
The Inspectorate has, for the first time, decided to make a special report to Parliament, and done so during Victorian Mental Health Month, to shine a light on the welfare (including mental health) of witnesses subject to the exercise of coercive powers by integrity agencies.
No matter who the witness is, or why they are being investigated, integrity agencies must demonstrate a regard for their welfare.
The examinations discussed in this report involved police officers. Police officers are, by the nature of their work, more likely to be exposed to risks to their mental health. This is a contemporary issue of public concern, both within and outside police. Integrity agencies must ensure their policies and procedures take the particular circumstances of witnesses into account. Some integrity agencies already do this. In this case, IBAC did not.
IBAC has a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that witnesses are not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from IBAC’s conduct. While this special report deals with a failure on IBAC’s part to take sufficient account of the mental health of witnesses, the Inspectorate is not suggesting that there has been wrongdoing by any individual IBAC officer. The reality is that IBAC’s policies and procedures did not provide sufficient guidance to protect the mental and physical health of witnesses in real and foreseeable circumstances arising from the exercise of IBAC’s coercive powers.
The Inspectorate is the key oversight body in Victoria’s integrity system. It was established to provide oversight of other integrity agencies and their officers, including IBAC. The Inspectorate has a statutory duty to monitor IBAC’s compliance with all laws and to assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of its policies and procedures.
This special report is presented in discharge of that duty. It makes 10 recommendations, which taken together, are designed to bring IBAC’s policies and procedures into alignment with community standards and IBAC’s obligations, particularly as these relate to mental health. The Inspectorate is fully aware of the important role IBAC plays in Victoria’s integrity system. This special report, including its recommendations, has been made to ensure that IBAC and the integrity system as a whole is strengthened, and to ensure that IBAC prioritises the health and safety of witnesses. None of the observations or recommendations made in this report impinge on operational effectiveness.