The United Nations has delivered a scathing decision against the Victorian government and its police force, claiming it violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) after failing to compensate a fiercely criticized woman by the police.
Corinna Horvath, from Somerville in the southern fringe of Melbourne, was beaten up by officers from the local Hastings Police Station in 1996.
The police broke down her door without a warrant, handcuffed her and beat her up to a dozen times, leaving her unconscious and with a broken nose running with clotted blood.
“My face was reduced to mush. My nose was broken – a suspected fractured jaw,” Ms. Horvath told the ABC’s 7:30 am program.
His lawyer, Tamar Hopkins of the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Center, said the attack was outrageous.
“It is absolutely shameful what happened to Corinna. She was beaten insanely by officers who had no reason to do what they were doing,” she said.
Ms Horvath was 21 at the time and had a difficult relationship with the local police.
The night before the assault, she was arrested for a minor traffic violation and drove her car home after police found her out of danger.
She was charged with a series of offenses which were later dismissed when it was revealed that the police who entered her home that night had lied and fabricated evidence.
She sued the police and the Victoria County Court awarded her over $ 300,000 and the other witnesses injured that night at her home.
Judge Roland Williams was damning in his description of the conduct of officers, especially Constable David Jenkin.
“Jenkin in his conduct has shown the most authoritarian approach, accompanied by excessive and unnecessary violence, resulting from unwillingness and a desire for revenge,” Judge Williams said.
But the officers shouted poor – one declared bankruptcy and the rest said they were unable to pay.
The State of Victoria appealed the damages decision to the Court of Appeal and won on the grounds that it was not vicariously liable for the agents who acted outside the domain of their functions.
This exemption does not apply to any other category of officials. Ms. Horvath did not receive damages.
“There has not been a good result for us,” said Ms. Horvath.
“Not only were the money taken away from us, but from what I see the state government said, ‘You have acted outside of your duty and we will not cover you. Therefore, we will not pay for you ‘. But, therefore, where are the accusations of assault? “
Ms Horvath’s lawyers took her case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in 2008 and it took six years to render its decision.
UNHCR concluded that Australia had violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Victoria must pay compensation to Ms Horvath.
He says the state must review its legislation, tell the UN how it is going to remedy this situation and must “widely publicize” its decision within 180 days.
“A state cannot shirk responsibility for violations of the pact committed by its own agents,” says the decision.
UN decision “justified”, lawyer says
“This is a justification, I think, of the position we took that Victoria was a signatory to the alliance, who agreed to abide by its terms, and it was not just something that applied to countries Africans or other countries and not us – this applied to us too and we could do [well] look in our own backyard, ”Ms. Horvath’s attorney, Dyson Hore-Lacy QC, said at 7:30 am.
Four members of the committee even went further than the majority, believing that the state had violated article 7 of the ICCPR, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
“The facts presented by [Corinna Horvath] and established by the Victoria County Court reveal a flagrant form of ill-treatment, ”said the four members of the committee in their conclusion.
In December, Victorian law will change to provide that if a claimant against a police officer who acts wrongly at work is unlikely to receive compensation after exhausting all avenues, the state must pay.
Lawyers for Ms Horvath say it will always be a long and expensive two-step process.
Lawyers for Ms Horvath argue that the UN decision is unequivocal and that the proposed legislative changes do not go far enough.
“We expect the Japanese to comply with the ruling of the International Court of Justice on whaling,” Hore-Lacy said.
“It would be very hypocritical of the state to say, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to respect this decision because we don’t like it.’
Ms Hopkins said none of the officers who beat Ms Horvath lost their jobs – in fact, they were all promoted and two still work for Victoria Police.
“It is an extraordinary contradiction for the state to say that officers behaved with such deliberate disrespect, disrespect for a person, while continuing to employ them,” Ms Hopkins said.
The UN decision demands the reopening of disciplinary proceedings against the police and says the state must appoint an impartial body to investigate human rights violations – and not, as in this case, leave the Victoria Police to take care of it internally.