Coronial inquest may challenge process on mining prosecutions

January 16, 2020 Mining Editor

A pre-coronial inquest hearing into the death of mine electrician Paul Maguire at the Anglo Grasstree mine has heard that terms under which an inquest is conducted should be reconsidered.

The pre-inquest hearing was conducted in Mackay Court this week with legal representatives from Anglo Coal and the CFMEU in attendance.

John Aberdeen, Counsel assisting the Coroner David O’Connor, has told the preliminary hearing that an inquest should consider whether the responsibility of mining death prosecutions ought to change hands from the Queensland commissioner of mine safety to an experienced industrial manslaughter prosecutor.

Mr Aberdeen told the hearing that “Important parties in this industry are not happy or satisfied with the way these things are done. There is no transparency to them.”

Anglo Coal’s representative at the Coronial hearing Dr Kerri Mellifont QC, said that the current evidence before the coroner did not justify that line of inquiry by the inquest.

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“My submission [which] follows developments as late as last Sunday, when there was a further mining-related fatality, is that Your Honour would consider making the comment that the possibility of the ‘industrial manslaughter prosecutor’ also taking over the prosecution … of mining-related fatalities which are not manslaughter.” Dr Mellifont said.

“And most of them aren’t — they simply don’t satisfy the criteria for manslaughter.”

“The proposed recommendations alluded to by Mr Aberdeen is one which really calls for a fundamental change in the way in which mining prosecutions are conducted within Queensland,” she said.

“Your Honour could only ever consider making a recommendation to change who makes prosecutorial decisions.

“If there was a case before you which made a claim that the prosecution, or those responsible for the decision, made such a fundamental error that you had formed the view that they should no longer be the entity we trust to engage in future decision making.”

Dr Kerrie Mellifont QC
Dr Kerrie Mellifont QC

Anglo adopts defensive position on the death of miner

Anglo American barrister Dr Kerri Mellifont said Mr McGuire’s death had been the first in 130 years in Queensland mining under these particular circumstances.

Dr Mellifont said the death of Paul Maguire was an “isolated incident” met immediately with a mine safety alert with recommendations industry-wide for each coal mine to conduct a hazard audit for dangerous areas.

“It’s not like some cases which come before the coroner’s court where there’s more than one death … because of a particular issue,” Dr Mellifont said.

Coroner David O’Connor told Dr Mellifont “Do I need multiple deaths before I make a recommendation? … I thought one was enough.”

You can read more about the circumstances of the Paul Maguire incident at our story here (includes links to the Department’s Investigation reports).

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