Law from all angles
Courtroom experience, two decades as a country cop and now law study at ACU has opened police prosecutor Josh Kelly’s eyes to career possibilities at the opposite end of the bar table.
Police officer Josh Kelly had been considering a law degree for two decades before his lightbulb moment arrived.
As a prosecutor and community policing veteran with experience stretching from southeast Queensland to the tip of Cape York, he had viewed justice from many angles.
It was not until 2021 when, preparing for a matter to be heard in a traffic court, he realised there was another perspective he must explore.
“There’s a lot of people appearing in court who have no idea about the process,” said Josh, a second-year Bachelor of Laws student at Australian Catholic University (ACU). “They might be there for demerit points or unpaid fines and don’t qualify for legal aid.
“At that point it’s difficult from my position as a prosecutor to show compassion. That’s when it dawned on me that it was the people at the other end of the bar table who most needed help.”
Law has long been on Sergeant Kelly’s mind but considering the defence’s view was not front of mind when he left the police academy in Brisbane in 2001.
Relocating 1700km north to Cairns was both a rite of passage for a young police officer in search of experience and an adventure that would take him across Cape York.
Josh spent three years in far north Queensland during that stint. During that time, he worked in Kowanyama, a tiny community a further 600km from Cairns on the west of Cape York.
There began the lessons about the nuances of remote policing.
In a town that size, suspects were usually known to police but one man shocked his surprised pursuers when he leapt into nearby Magnificent Creek, a known location for a big resident saltwater crocodile. “He made it back out safely, and we did catch up with him,” Josh said.
More importantly, his education on the job as an outback cop taught the young constable about the balance between enforcement, community engagement and social justice.
Routine, strict law enforcement that is expected in the big smoke does not always work in the regions. Judgment, relationships and tolerance can be more useful than a firm hand.
On the job with three time Paralympic gold medalist Kurt Fearnley.
Throughout his career, policing in towns like Coen and Lockhart River in the far north, and in Laidley in the state’s southeast, taught him that a quiet word on some one’s ear produced a better outcome than an arrest.
“It’s a different style of policing,” he said. “The expectation in the city is that if there is a disturbance, then an arrest needs to be made.
“But in places like Kowanyama there’s also by-laws (Community Justice Groups) that can divert offenders away from court. I learned that there’s other ways to deter people from crime.”
In the courtroom
After completing a six-month course, Josh commenced work as a police prosecutor in 2015.
The role differs to that of a lawyer. Much of the training is practical and views law predominantly from a criminal prosecution perspective.
It is limited to what can be finalised in a magistrates court. Matters relating to bodily harm, unlawful entry, stealing, drug possession and driving offences would typically land on a police prosecutor’s desk.
He learned there that losing a driver licence could be crippling to some one’s livelihood. And that many, if properly advised, could mitigate such heavy penalties.
“If you’d have asked me in 2015 if I’d consider being a defence lawyer the answer would be no,” Josh said. “But it’s those unrepresented people who need the most help.
“They don’t know you can apply for a restricted licence. You can see the intent of the legislation but in reality it’s rarely black and white.
“It ought to be about balancing the hands of justice.”
In the classroom
What he will do after graduation from a Bachelor of Laws at ACU remains an unanswered question for Josh.
Studying on campus at Banyo on Brisbane’s north side has provided countless opportunities to test his skills, ideas and arguments in face-to-face settings.
“Part of the assessment was about attending tutorials and engaging in discussion,” he said.
“With law there’s always different interpretations and it’s healthy to have debates because that’s how you learn.
“Once you’re qualified, that’s what you do.”
Passionate about law and criminology? Explore the courses available at ACU.