Father Paul McGuire was killed in mine gas trap at Grasstree Mine in 2014.
Father Paul McGuire was killed in mine gas trap at Grasstree Mine in 2014.

Mine death sparks call for specialist prosecutor

AN ISSUE set to be explored during a mine death inquest has been revised to focus on who decides whether charges should be dropped in mining fatality cases.

The coroner will assess whether the Mine Safety and Health Commissioner or a more experienced specialist prosecutor should make the call.

Father-of-two Paul McGuire died after lethal air engulfed him upon entering a goaf at Grasstree Mine on May 6, 2014. An inquest into his death begins next month.

Mine operator Anglo Coal agreed to plead guilty as long as charges against employee Adam Garde were dropped.

The submission was signed off by the Mine Safety and Health Commissioner.

Initially the draft list of issues included whether the process of prosecution, including the discontinuation of particular prosecutions, was appropriate to the circumstances of this case, which sparked debate between the CFMMEU, Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy and Anglo lawyers during a pre-inquest conference last week.

Central coroner David O'Connell said he thought this was because some interested parties believed the inquest would delve "behind the decision-making process as to why the prosecutions were resolved as they were".

The CFMMEU alleged a "plea bargain" had allowed Mr Garde to avoid prosecution and suggested the whole process had not been transparent.

But counsel assisting the coroner, John Aberdeen clarified the purpose of the issue was to explore whether the DNRME or the Commissioner was in the appropriate position, with appropriate experience and resources to prosecute breaches.

"It was said that perhaps they lack the experience and expertise (no offence intended to any departmental person) of prosecutions," Mr O'Connell said.

"Counsel Assisting confirmed that really (the issue) is directed to whether a specialist prosecutor, namely the industrial prosecutor, is better positioned to conduct such matters."

As a result, Mr O'Connell revised the issue.

It now reads: whether the discretion to discontinue a prosecution in respect of a mining safety offence involving a death should remain with the Mine Safety and Health Commissioner or whether such discretion should fall under the jurisdiction of the WSH prosecutor.

Mr O'Connell noted that draft issues were prepared before any oral and sworn evidence being heard.

"It is always possible that evidence which comes to light at inquest requires some modification to what were considered appropriate issues, at least at the pre-inquest stage," he said.

The inquest will begin on February 18 in Mackay Coroners Court.