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Supreme Court rules MP case can proceed

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South Australian independent MP Troy Bell can get a fair trial on theft charges, with the state’s highest court also backing the power of the corruption watchdog to refer matters directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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In a ruling on Thursday, the Full Court of the Supreme Court found a District Court judge had erred in suggesting the state’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption had acted unlawfully in bypassing police and referring the Bell case direct to the DPP.

It also backed the commissioner’s power to have an ongoing role in the case, including interviewing witnesses and preparing statements.

That lower court decision had thrown doubt of a number of ICAC investigations and prosecutions with suggestions more than 10 cases under consideration or before the courts had been left in a “state of paralysis”.

However, the District Court had also determined that Bell could receive a fair trial and dismissed his application for a permanent stay of proceedings.

The Supreme Court backed that conclusion and found a number of Bell’s arguments in relation to his application for a permanent stay “misconceived”.

“The judge was correct to conclude that Bell had not established a basis for the grant of a permanent stay,” the Supreme Court said in the reasons for its judgment.

“The judge was correct to conclude that Bell has not suffered a forensic disadvantage, and the prosecution has not obtained a forensic advantage, which warranted a stay of the criminal proceeding on the basis that any trial would be unfair.

“The judge was also correct to conclude that the administration of justice would not be brought into disrepute if a permanent stay were refused.”

Bell is defending 20 theft and dishonesty charges related to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The charges cover a period before he entered state parliament when he worked as an independent provider of educational programs.

Prosecutors have accused him of overcharging and falsifying invoices, accounts and meeting minutes.

He has consistently denied the allegations.

As the member for Mt Gambier, Bell was first elected as a Liberal in 2014 but quit the party after his arrest in August 2017.

He was returned to parliament at the 2018 state election after contesting the poll as an independent.

-AAP

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