Today Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AM, acted on the advice of the Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin and agreed to remove Mr Tim Ellis SC from the office of Director of Public Prosecutions pursuant to section 10 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1973.
Mr Ellis' removal takes effect immediately.
On behalf of the Government and the people of Tasmania, I wish to extend our condolences to the family of Natalia Pearn.
The Pearn family has today been advised of Her Excellency's decision.
We also wish to acknowledge the public interest and concern, which the Government has shared, at the time this complex legal matter has taken to be finalised.
We thank Tasmanians for their understanding and patience as this matter was determined.
The Attorney-General's statement, which follows, outlines the steps taken by the Government in this complex legal case.
Statement from the Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin
At the outset I would like to echo the Premier's sentiments. I acknowledge and share the community concern over this issue and thank Tasmanians for their understanding and patience as this matter was determined.
I too once again extend my condolences to the Pearn family for the loss of their daughter Natalia. I can confirm that I spoke to Mr and Mrs Pearn and informed them of this decision in the last hour.
In explaining my decision to advise Her Excellency, the Governor to remove the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Timothy Ellis SC, from office I think it is important that I outline to Tasmanians the complex legal matters and legally established timeframes that I as Attorney-General have had to work through in reaching this outcome. I hope that this context and background will provide some understanding of the events of the last few months, why such time has elapsed and why neither I nor the government have been able to comment since this situation unfolded.
As is a matter of record, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Ellis, was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident on the Midland Highway on 24 March 2013. And as a result of the accident, Mr Ellis was charged with causing death by negligent driving. He was also suspended on full pay on 4 November 2013.
Court proceedings commenced against Mr Ellis on the 24th of March 2014 which, as you would all be aware, was the beginning of a protracted and extensive legal process. These proceedings concluded after Mr Ellis' sentencing on 23 December 2014 and when the appeal periods available to Mr Ellis and the Crown expired on 13 January 2015.
As you would no doubt be aware, while a matter is before the courts and while appeal periods remain active, it is inappropriate for a government to provide any comment on the matter.
The Government acknowledges the community frustration and uncertainty caused by the lack of information available in the public domain relating to this matter, and again I hope that the information I am finally able to provide today will settle this uncertainty.
I will take this opportunity to touch on one matter that has been of some community concern, and that is the matter of the DPP being suspended on full pay for an extended period of time.
At present there is no legal power to suspend the Director of Public Prosecutions without pay and the Government intends to look into this.
The Government shares the community's concern and I will return to this matter at a later stage.
On 23 December 2014, after Magistrate Webster had handed down Mr Ellis' sentence, I issued a notice in writing to Mr Ellis indicating that I was considering whether his conduct as found by Magistrate Webster was capable of constituting "misbehaviour" within the meaning of section 10 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1973, and further, if that conduct was capable of constituting "misbehaviour " within the meaning of the Act, whether I should advise Her Excellency the Governor that Mr Ellis should be removed from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions pursuant to that provision.
Mr Ellis was given until the 14th of January to respond to this notice, with an option to extend the matter by another week.
Given Mr Ellis' suspension was to expire on the 13th and that he had until the 14th to respond to my Notice, and to enable me to consider his response once received, Mr Ellis' suspension was extended to the 28th of January to enable me to consider these matters and to advise Her Excellency, should I choose to do so.
On 13 January, Mr Ellis provided a written response to the notice.
On 16 January this year, I received from my Department the notice to Mr Ellis of 23 December and his response of 13 January. I carefully considered all of this material in coming to my decision and in particular the response of Mr Ellis dated 13 January.
On 18 January, I determined to advise the Governor to remove Mr Ellis from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on the grounds of misbehaviour pursuant to section 10 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1973.
I provided that advice to Her Excellency at midday today at a meeting of the Executive Council at Government House. Her Excellency acted on my advice and, as the Premier has already mentioned, Mr Ellis has been removed from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Again, similar to the inability to comment on a matter while it is before the courts, neither I nor the government was able to comment on this matter before Her Excellency had made her decision.
Ensuring that the community has confidence in the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions is essential to ensuring that Tasmanians can have confidence in our criminal justice system. If confidence is eroded in the Office of the DPP, confidence in criminal justice system will be undermined. That is why it was so important to act and protect the integrity of the Office.
Mr Ellis has served as the state's Director of Public prosecutions for the past 15 years.
The Government will commence working through a process to appoint the next Director of Public Prosecutions. In the meantime, Mr Daryl Coates SC, who has so ably filled the role of Acting DPP while this matter was resolved, will continue in that role.
I would like to take this opportunity to note that the staff of the office of the DPP, including Mr Coates, have done an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. I thank the staff for their hard work and dedication in these trying times.
In closing I would also like to take this opportunity to announce the Government will be amending the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1973 to deal with the effective life tenure of the appointment and similarly the government will be amending the Solicitor-General Act 1983 for the same reason.
In addition to these reforms we will also be looking to potentially remove the obligation to provide full-pay to statutory officers suspended from duty.
I will have more to say on these reforms in the coming months once we work through the detail.
I hope that the information that I have provided today has answered many of the questions that the community have.
Mr Ellis has not been given a payout. He will only receive his accrued annual and long service leave entitlements valued at approximately $290,000.