Twenty-one prosecutors received specialised training on how to run war crimes cases in anticipation of referrals from the dedicated office investigating war crimes allegations, documents reveal.
Only one soldier has so far been charged for his alleged conduct in Afghanistan and the case has been slow to move through the courts, with his lawyers complaining of delays in receiving the evidence against their client.
But briefing documents obtained through freedom of information laws show the commonwealth director of public prosecutions (CDPP) began to significantly ramp up its resourcing and preparedness as far back as early last year in anticipation of more referrals from war crimes investigators.
The documents show the CDPP trained 21 prosecutors in a “preliminary specialised war crimes” training program in March 2022. Those training programs took place over two days and were done in “preparation to undertake war crimes prosecutions”.
“A further 2-day training program focusing on managing complex prosecutions took place in November 2022. Discrete training sessions have also been provided over 2022 and 2023.”
The briefing documents suggest the total number of prosecutors assigned to war crimes cases would “depend on the number and timing of matters referred to the CDPP by the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI)”.
“An assistant director and a prosecution team leader have been appointed to oversight this work to liaise with and provide pre-brief advice to the OSI, assess future CDPP resourcing requirements and ensure CDPP lawyers are appropriately trained,” the documents say.
The CDPP has also been engaged to help the Australian federal police in a “number of war crimes-related investigations” and said it also stood ready to assist the OSI’s work “as and when required”, the briefing documents state.
The documents were obtained by the former senator Rex Patrick and his company Transparency Warrior, which provides paid FOI support and training, including to political staffers. They do not reveal how many referrals in total the CDPP has received from both the CDPP and OSI due to a “claim of public interest immunity”, which suggests that the disclosure of such information would “prejudice an ongoing police investigation”.
Separate documents tendered in the federal court in August suggested more than 30 active investigations were under way as part of theAustralian federal police and OSI’s work through Operation Emerald.
The detail was confirmed as Ben Roberts-Smith fought efforts by government war crimes investigators to access restricted and sensitive court files from his failed defamation case.
Former SAS soldier Oliver Jordan Schulz, 41, was the first individual to be charged and faces allegations he unlawfully killed a civilian while deployed in Afghanistan in 2012.
His case appeared in Sydney’s Downing Centre local court earlier this month and his lawyers said they were still waiting to see evidence against him. His lawyers expressed concern at the length of the process.
Schulz is the only Australian soldier to be charged over his alleged conduct in Afghanistan.
A spokesperson for the CDPP said the office would continue to work closely with the government and OSI to ensure it had the resources required to assess and prosecute war crimes cases.
“The 2023–24 budget announced that the CDPP would be provided with $2.1 million in the 2023-24 year and $3.4 million in the 2024–25 year to support the work of the Office of the Special Investigator,” the spokesperson said.