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Rolfe's bias accusations against coroner 'groundless'

Neve Brissenden -

A request by former NT constable Zachary Rolfe to have a coroner step aside from an inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker has been labelled a groundless distraction by police.

NT Coroner Elisabeth Armitage has been investigating Mr Walker's death in the inquest since September 2022.

Zachary Rolfe shot Kumanjayi Walker three times while on duty in the remote community of Yuendumu.

Mr Rolfe shot the 19-year-old three times while on duty in the remote community of Yuendumu but was acquitted of murder in a five-week trial last year.

Mr Rolfe's lawyer, Luke Officer, filed a submission two weeks out from re-appearing at the inquest asking the coroner to "consider recusing herself from the inquest on the grounds of apprehended bias".

But NT Police lawyers said the coroner should reject the submission.

"The inquest should proceed without further distraction in relation to peripheral and groundless aggrievements so that it can be brought to a conclusion without additional delay, trauma for the family members of Kumanjayi Walker and expense for the Northern Territory," police lawyer Ian Freckelton said in a submission.

In his submission, Mr Rolfe argued the coroner colluded with police to have him sacked earlier in the year to provide "justice" for Mr Walker's family.

"Significantly, Mr Rolfe was not dismissed from his employment with the NTPF as a consequence of the coronial inquest, (or) as a result of a decision made by the coroner, Mr Rolfe lost his job as a consequence of his own conduct," Dr Freckelton said.

During last year's proceedings, the court and Ms Armitage visited the remote community of Yuendumu and met with Mr Walker's family and community members.

Mr Rolfe's lawyers said the coroner could have "distanced herself" from the grieving families, particularly from conversations about punishing Mr Rolfe for killing Mr Walker.

"Discussions had taken place during the proceedings about the need for payback and that there would be no healing until the blood of Mr Rolfe had been split," Mr Officer said.

Coroner Elisabeth Armitage visited outback Yuendumu as part of an inquest into Mr Walker's death.

He argued counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer actively inquired about ways Mr Rolfe could be brought to justice when she asked the family: "If you put spearing to one side, is there anything else that payback or justice could involve?"

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Mr Walker's family and the Yuendumu Parumpurru Committee all agreed with police and urged the coroner to continue with the inquest and not to step aside.

In its submission, NAAJA said there was no basis for the coroner to recuse herself and community engagement was necessary.

"Nothing about the interactions on the Yuendumu visit raises 'concerns' that could in any way contribute to a reasonable apprehension of bias," NAAJA said.

"Community engagement was particularly acute in the present coronial proceedings because of the way that the death of Kumanjayi Walker and the acquittal of Mr Rolfe had divided the NT community."

Mr Rolfe has until Tuesday to file any reply and the coroner will deliver a ruling by the end of the week.

The inquest into the Warlpiri man's death has been repeatedly disrupted by legal stoushes about whether Mr Rolfe and another officer have the legal right to refuse to provide evidence to the coroner.

Mr Rolfe previously refused to answer controversial questions on the grounds they may expose him to disciplinary action, while he was still in the force.

Judge Armitage ruled that witnesses could not decline to answer questions, and appeals by Mr Rolfe in the NT Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal were unsuccessful.

The rulings meant the coroner could now be able to compel Rolfe to answer questions about racist text messages that the inquest was told he sent.

He is also likely to be asked about the night he killed Mr Walker, his previous alleged misuse of police body-worn cameras, previous alleged excessive use of force and an allegedly falsified NT police recruitment application.

The inquest is due to resume on October 23 with Mr Rolfe's evidence, though the latest legal challenges could delay proceedings.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

Neve Brissenden - AAP

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