Justice for Corinna Horvath is long overdue

Liberty Victoria welcomes the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Horvath v Australia (1885/2009).

“This case demonstrates that justice in Victoria is hollow when it comes to the accountability of the police force,” said Liberty Victoria President, Jane Dixon QC today.

In 2001, Corinna Horvath was found by the County Court of Victoria to have been horrifically assaulted and then falsely imprisoned by members of Victoria Police.

On 9 March 1996, in the sanctity of her home, she was tackled to the ground, punched in the face, her nose was broken, and having been rendered senseless she was handcuffed and, while still bleeding, taken away and lodged in police cells while screaming in pain.

As noted by the learned trial judge, the incident was “…a disgraceful and outrageous display of police force in a private house”, characterised by “…excessive and unnecessary violence wrought out of unmeritorious motives of ill will”.

Further, Corinna Horvath was found to have been subject to a malicious prosecution seeking to justify the actions of those police involved.

She has never been properly compensated.

Those police involved in the incident have never been properly disciplined and some remain employed by Victoria Police.

Jane Dixon QC said: “For almost 20 years Corinna Horvath has struggled to receive justice from a Victorian legal system that shields the State from being properly responsible for the actions of its agents. It is an indictment on our legal system that she has had to have the violation of her human rights, including the failure of the State to provide an effective remedy, acknowledged by the United Nations.”

Liberty Victoria endorses the unequivocal findings of the United Nations Human Rights Committee that:

  1. Corinna Horvath is entitled to proper compensation for being the victim of an assault that was found to be brutal and without lawful justification;
  2. It is imperative that properly transparent disciplinary proceedings are brought against those involved;
  3. It is vital that when complaints are made against police, those complaints are investigated promptly, thoroughly and effectively through independent and impartial bodies; and
  4. The State cannot elude its responsibility for violations of human rights committed by its agents.

“It is plain that the recently enacted Police Act 2013 (Vic) does not address the human rights failings identified by the UN Human Rights Committee”,  said Jane Dixon QC. These include:

  1. The Act still provides that the State is not liable for the serious and wilful misconduct of police. That is plainly inconsistent with the UN decision.
  2. The Act does not oblige the State to pay proper and full compensation for victims of violence. That is inconsistent with the right to an effective remedy; and
  3. The Act requires, prior to an award of any (even insufficient) compensation by the State, that the claimant has exhausted all other avenues to recover the amount against the individual police.

“Seen through the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the basic right to an effective remedy, the new Act is unfair and only further entrenches the kind of delay that Corinna Horvath endured,” said the Liberty President.

 “Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Accordingly, all Australian Governments have the legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that those who have their human rights breached have access to an effective remedy.”

“Without access to an effective remedy, there is no access to justice.”

For comment please contact Liberty Victoria President, Jane Dixon QC or Vice President, Michael Stanton.