Abuse of Public Office offences aim to catch persons who improperly use their position to gain a benefit for themselves or someone else, or who cause a detriment or injury to another person. This can mean the exercising influence inappropriately, refusing to perform an official duty or function, or using knowledge gained by virtue of the public office. In practice, the offence is broader than might be commonly thought, and the bar lower. ‘Public officer’ does not simply mean politician or police officer. A person can commit an abuse of public office charge without ever accepting a bribe or favour. It is not a defence to say that you yourself did not benefit. With a renewed focus on corruption at the federal and state levels as well as increased discussion about the role of South Australia’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), persons charged with abuse of public office offences need expert advice from the moment they are charged.
What constitutes abuse of public office involves both objective and subjective tests. The conduct must be improper, meaning contrary to the standards of propriety generally and reasonably expected by the community. More than that, the person must know or be reckless as to whether or not they were acting improperly. An honest and reasonable belief in the lawfulness of the conduct can be a defence to the charge.
In building a case against a public officer, prosecutors will assess their conduct as broadly as possible, reviewing conversations with others, phone calls and emails, bank records and most importantly what the person says about their conduct in their interview with police. Getting advice early can ensure a person’s position isn’t prejudiced, potentially permitting defences and avenues to acquittal later on.
At Woods & Co Lawyers we give practical, detailed advice to help you make decisions and build your defence. The charge of abuse of public office is a serious and complex one – make an appointment with one of our experts today on 8311 3111.
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