Councils want intent retained
Queensland councils are urging the state government to listen to them, as it prepares new conflict of interest laws.
The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) says the Palaszczuk Government must ensure the element of intent remains part of the planned new offences.
Councillors could face up to two years in jail if they fail to comply with certain conflict of interest or register of interest requirements with an intent to dishonestly gain a benefit for themselves or someone else, or to dishonestly cause a detriment to someone else, under the proposed changes.
LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said councils support the introduction of the new offences, but including the element of intent is critical as it would ensure innocent mistakes, errors of judgement or administrative oversights are not criminalised.
“Elected representatives are entitled to natural justice and a presumption of innocence. Removing the element of intent would see them essentially considered guilty until proven innocent,” Mr Hallam said.
“We cannot have a situation where councillors are hauled before the courts for an administrative oversight, when there was no intention to act dishonestly in order to benefit themselves or others.
The view is shared by legal authorities.
Leading criminal lawyer and former Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts agreed intent should remain an element of the new offences.
“It is, with rare exceptions, in the criminal law a bed rock principal that the prosecution who seek to deter and punish behaviours must prove that the citizen intended to commit the offence,” Mr Potts said.
“Call it deliberate dishonesty or fraudulent, as a society we recognise that that mistakes occur outside the knowledge or control of the individual.
“Prosecutions with criminal penalties should only occur where intention is clearly established.”