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City Desk
21 June, 2007  
An ode to Nick

Someone loves Nicholas Cowdery, even if the state government doesn’t. His budget has been cut and he will no longer be an adornment on the international conference circuit, but at least one staffer has come out to sing his praises. “The ODPP is a good place to work.”

imageWhile other parts of the NSW Laura Norda machine were being stuffed with money by a munificent state government, the office of the DPP was told to grin and bear a 6.75 percent cut (or $5.642 million) to its recurrent cash budget for staff and running expenses.

Cop that Cowdery, and we’ll take your overseas jaunts off you too.

The cut includes $2.1 million deferred from a previous year and there was a further $3.4 million withdrawn from the Criminal Case Conferencing program.

That program produced considerable cost savings as it resulted in early advice given to police about likely pleas of guilty in the Local Court, the reduction of the incidence of pleas of guilty on the day of trial and a consequent reduction in the number of trials listed in the District Court.

Those savings had a flow-on effect through to legal aid, the courts, the police as well as the DPP’s office.

Alas, no more. The DPP is down there with the Yarts, which was cut 6 percent across the board, despite a healthy overall state budget surplus of $400 million.

More money has to be shovelled into the growth industries, such as prisons (an extra $59.3 million for 1,000 new prison places), and police (up at least $90 million to $2.2 billion).

imageJust in case Cowdery (seen here) doesn’t get the message that he’s on the nose with the bovver boys of Macquarie Street, his overseas travel has been closed down. The attorney general is most unlikely to be approving any trips this year by DPP people to international conferences, even if the ODPP puts up the money itself for the junkets. “Conference Cowdery” will just have to stay put for a while.

It’s not all misery and woe. The legislation removing life tenure for office holders will not apply to the current DPP and the 100 or so crown prosecutors. The fact that they are in the extraordinary position of holding their jobs for life came about as a result of a legislative “oversight”.

When the DPP Act was passed in 1986 it provided for “vacation of office” at age 65. However, the Anti-Discrimination (Compulsory Retirement) Amendment Act, 1990, repealed that provision in the DPP Act and nothing was put in its place.

So Cowdery can still hang about, if he wants to, driving the government to distraction with his “independence” and his uncomplimentary remarks about its “ludicrous political manifesto” and the overbearing influence “the front page of The Daily Telegraph and the shock jocks” have on its “strategy”.

However, Cowdery is not without his loyal fans from behind the barbed-wire. I got this flea in my ear from Gayle Davies, the ODPP’s manager of library services, after it was suggested in a Sydney Morning Herald column that the office may be a little too comfortable for the inmates and that a proposed visit by the Auditor General would be beneficial.

Gayle is giving her own views, not those of her boss, although I’d be surprised if he disagreed. Take it away Gayle:

I’m not quite sure what point you were trying to make in your article last Friday, June 8 (especially the bit about the Commonwealth DPP – what has prosecuting welfare cheats got to do with the NSW DPP?), but you are right in your final point – the auditor will be welcome at the ODPP.

For a start, the Auditor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions have something very important in common – it is absolutely imperative that their political independence is staunchly observed and respected. Our director’s independence, and his personal kindness and good humour, are the main things that make the ODPP a good place to work. Many of us have worked in corporate law firms, and we wouldn’t swap back for all the money in the world.

Furthermore, most of us like working in an environment where our right to freedom of opinion and expression is respected, which is why we wouldn’t move to the Commonwealth government in its present manifestation – your colleague David Marr would understand that.

I think the auditor will be somewhat surprised to see the rather Spartan environment in which DPP solicitors and Crown Prosecutors, including the Director and Deputy Directors, work. Nothing like those of a corporate law firm – no harbour views, no original ‘investment’ art works on the walls, no resident chef or wine cellar – in fact, not very ‘comfortable’ at all.

With reference to ‘dead wood’ – do I detect a bit of projection there? I note Brett Dawson is retired* – a lot of us can’t afford to retire even if we wanted to – unlike the work of a corporate lawyer, our jobs have meaning, and are rewarding, in ways that do not involve money.

Staff in the ODPP work many hours overtime, and on weekends – the difference for us is that our hours are not billable, and only show-up in the results obtained in court, not in partners’ pockets.

Perhaps youd like to visit one day, and follow a DPP solicitor, or witness assistance officer, around – see how many matters they have in their practice at any one time, go to court with them, see what they do, and how many other people and agencies they have to deal with to achieve anything in a working day.

Next time, if you are going to quote ‘legal academics’, find someone who actually knows how to research the issue at hand. A good source to get a handle on all the variables that should be considered in evaluating the costs and performance of prosecutors’ offices is the US Department of Justice series, Prosecutors in State Courts.

Yours sincerely,

Gayle Davies
Manager, Library Services
Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (NSW)
265 Castlereagh St
Sydney 2000 NSW

*Just for the record, Brett Dawson may be retired from practice but he has not retired from work.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 28, 2007, 3:32 am

Richard, The following will doubtless appear as sour grapes: Cowdery has planned a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ODPP. He wrote in an internal All Staff Memo that he is endeavouring to invite as many retired staff to the function. Barry Newport Q.C. has lived in the same home since 1968 and retired in about 2005 after a brilliant 26 year stint. When he retired he notified the Governor and AG directly without notifying Conference Cowdery (or "The Hunchback" as sometimes known). Newport Q.C has not been invited. Neither have I (another retired Crown Prosecutor) nor will other retired Crown Prosecutors be invited. It is due to be celebrated on 13th July, 2007 at the Masonic Centre, Goulburn Street.