Deputy Director: Scott Bruckard PSM
Top referring agencies
- Australian Federal Police 76%
- State and territory police 23%
- Department of Home Affairs 1%
Matters on hand: 345
- Organised crime offending such as transnational drug and tobacco importations, firearms trafficking and money laundering
- National security
- War crimes
The Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism (OCCT) practice group is responsible for the prosecution of terrorism offences, large‑scale organised crime matters and offences relating to the national security of the Commonwealth.
Prosecutors are skilled in managing cases through a team‑based operating model and utilising digital tools in the large, complex and resource intensive cases that the OCCT practice group prosecutes. Prosecutors also provide independent legal advice in tight time frames to partner agencies during the course of active police investigations.
Trends in 2019–20 prosecutions
The work of OCCT prosecutors is increasingly of an international nature, reflecting the globalisation of more serious criminal activity. The matters we prosecuted this year included domestic terrorism linked to terrorist organisations based in the Middle East, alleged foreign fighters returning from Syria, massive narcotics shipments organised by off‑shore criminal syndicates and contraventions of United Nations sanctions laws.
Matters referred for prosecution more often than not contain evidence gathered from outside of Australia. Whether such evidence be in the form of social media records obtained form an Internet Service Provider in the United States or a witness statement obtained from resident of a foreign country, our prosecutors work closely with partners and officers of the Attorney‑General’s Department (AGD) in Canberra to support the collection of admissible evidence from foreign jurisdictions. In addition, an increasing number of the prosecutions we commenced this year targeted persons who were resident in a foreign country or arose out of a successful application for extradition or mutual assistance.
The volume of OCCT referrals received by the CDPP in 2019–20 increased by 19 per cent and our workload continues to increase in complexity. Many of the OCCT matters referred to us for prosecution will require a resource commitment from our prosecutors for some years as these cases make their way through the committal, trial and appeal phases in local state and territory criminal courts.
Since March 2020, the COVID‑19 pandemic has delayed the finalisation of a number of significant OCCT cases. While our prosecutors are working closely with partners and stakeholders online to keep as many cases as possible moving through the criminal justice system, the conduct of longer and more complex criminal jury trials at a time of physical distancing continues to present a challenge for our criminal justice system. Further delay in the finalisation of these matters seems likely.
Our early resolution strategies helped to deliver pleas of guilty in a number of important and high profile cases in 2019–20. Pleas of guilty were recorded in 73 of our OCCT cases while some 18 matters proceeded to a contested jury trial across Australia. In total, 16 individuals were convicted of terrorism offences during this period. This brings the total number of individuals convicted of terrorism offences to 86 since 2001.
Large-scale drug importations
A number of large‑scale international drug importation matters have been successfully prosecuted during 2019–20 following lengthy and resource intensive trials conducted by prosecutors in OCCT.
A number of these prosecutions related to importations of border controlled drugs which weighed over one tonne. Many of those convicted were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. In one matter, two offenders were sentenced to life imprisonment with non‑parole periods of 22 and 25 years imprisonment.
The prosecution of organised crime and terrorism offences takes place in a global setting and often involves multiple offenders, police informers, foreign evidence, undercover operatives and voluminous briefs of evidence. OCCT is continually building relationships with domestic and international partners to achieve better prosecution outcomes.
OCCT continues to build strong working relationships with partner agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, Department of Home Affairs, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and state and territory police, to meet their enforcement and compliance strategy objectives.
OCCT also continues to provide prosecution services including pre‑brief advice in terrorism and more significant organised‑crime matters, during active investigations to support partner agencies. The provision of specialist and independent advice aims to assist police in making timely operational decisions in complex investigations. Early cooperation between police and prosecutors in complex criminal investigations also helps to focus investigative resources, improve efficiency and deliver better law enforcement outcomes.
In addition to providing training to partner agencies in areas such as court procedure and evidence, OCCT prosecutors also provide training to Joint Counter Terrorism Teams across Australia. OCCT prosecutors attend regular liaison meetings and take part in collaborative panel discussions designed to deliver better prosecution outcomes.
OCCT continued to support the important legislative and policy work of government in 2019–20. We have developed a strong working relationship with staff from the AGD and the Department of Home Affairs in the area of law reform. We aim to provide them with valuable insights and observations regarding the practical application of the laws we rely on to prosecute in order to better inform effective legislative and policy development.
In 2019–20, OCCT prosecutors supported a number of legislative initiatives, including the development of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Economic Disruption) Bill 2020. Our prosecutors also assisted the work of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Global Counter Terrorism Forum.
OCCT prosecutors regularly liaise with partner agencies at a regional, national and international level to address issues or trends in current and future prosecutions, that impact on the work of the office.
We provide partner agencies and stakeholders with weekly and quarterly reports on counter terrorism prosecutions to ensure they are kept up to date with accurate information about the conduct of current terrorism prosecutions. OCCT prosecutors also engage with staff from state and territory police and prosecution agencies, corrections, Legal Aid Commissions and the courts to foster a culture of collaboration on common issues across the criminal justice system, particularly as they relate to the impact of delays caused by COVID‑19.
In 2019, OCCT hosted its annual conference for key stakeholders. The conference was held in Melbourne and focused on Global Crime. Conference attendees heard from various law enforcement, government and academic experts on topics such as right wing extremism, battlefield evidence and mutual assistance requests. The annual conference provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships, as well as promoting collaboration between agencies.
OCCT Prosecutors participated in a number of international engagements in 2019–20 including:
- Australia, September 2019—Prosecutors hosted a Philippine delegation which was arranged by the Department of Home Affairs. A presentation provided by the OCCT practice group focused on the co‑ordination between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in terrorism matters.
- Indonesia, October 2019—A prosecutor participated in a workshop on approaches to prosecuting terrorism and trafficking in persons cases with the Attorney‑General’s Office of the Republic of Indonesia and the United States Department of Justice. In addition, the prosecutor assisted with compiling a guidelines manual for Indonesian prosecutors.
- Vietnam, November 2019—A prosecutor participated in two conferences on the topic of electronic evidence. At the conference, the prosecutor provided a presentation explaining the criminal trial process and legislative framework of criminal law in Australia, with case studies to illustrate how electronic evidence is adduced in criminal trials.