An innocent Fremantle couple wrongfully tasered by police have won their legal battle against the WA Government for more than $1.1 million in compensation.
Law professor Robert Cunningham and his wife Catherine Atoms have welcomed a decision by the WA Supreme Court of Appeal to dismiss an appeal by the Government.
The couple were walking past the Esplanade Hotel at night in November 2008 when they stopped to help a man lying in bushes nearby.
Police arrived shortly afterwards and tasered the couple, before handcuffing them and charging them with obstructing a public officer.
The charges were later dismissed, but the couple took civil action against the Government and three police officers.
Dr Cunningham and Ms Atoms said their quest for justice had been an expensive and gruelling ordeal.
“It will remain a costly exercise and a great concern to Western Australian citizens if the state’s role in justice and the rule of law is consigned only to civil procedures,” Dr Cunningham said.
Ms Atoms highlighted their problems in trying to seek repercussions for the three officers who tasered them.
“Today’s decision will motivate the state to correct their institutional responses for allegations of serious misconduct,” she said.
“We should focus on building communities and keeping harmless people out of reach of the criminal justice system.”
Rare victory follows long battle
The Government was ordered by justices Michael Buss, Janine Pritchard and Graeme Murphy to pay the couple more than $1.1 million in damages, as well as costs, which are yet to be determined.
The damages were first awarded two years ago by Justice Felicity Davis in a District Court case.
But the appeal by the Government over a point of law, determining whether the government or police were liable when police behaved maliciously, put the compensation payment on hold.
The appeal judgment found the Government was liable for the full amount of damages.
It marks a rare victory for the couple, who have tirelessly worked for many years to have the police officers brought to justice.
An internal police investigation cleared the officers of wrongdoing and the Corruption and Crime Commission has refused to reopen an investigation.
The couple has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees and medical bills, after the unlawful tasering left them with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries.
As a result of the civil action, Ms Atoms was awarded more than $1 million, predominantly for her lost earnings as a consultant, and Dr Cunningham more than $110,000.
Justice Davis found the officers — Glenn Caldwell, Peter Clark and Simon Traynor — had fabricated evidence, abused their powers and falsely imprisoned, assaulted and tasered the couple.
‘Accept the court’s decision’
The couple’s lawyer, Maurice Blackburn principal Phil Gleeson, said he hoped the Government and police officers would accept the court’s decision.
“After so many years trying to resolve this matter, it can only be hoped that the defendants will now accept the court’s decision and allow my clients to move on with their lives,” he said.
“They only took on the civil suit after many years of trying to have authorities investigate and address their wrongful arrest and the police behaviour on that night.”
Attorney-General John Quigley said the couple would receive the $1.1 million payment in coming weeks
“The State wanted to determine a legal principle,” he said.
“Now that has been determined, the case is over and they will get the money they were awarded by the court.”.
He told the WA Parliament in March that he would ask the State Solicitor to look at whether the three officers had committed criminal or disciplinary offences.
A spokeswoman from his office said the matter was still being considered by the State Solicitor.