Report hearing fourth day of trial October 18

Report Fourth Day of the Trial

Friday 18th October 2019 for R v Kathlin Armstrong at the Downing Centre Local Court 4.2. The hearing recommenced at 9:30am and was presided over by Her Honour Magistrate, Carolyn Huntsman. The defence team is Peter O’Brien and Tahn O’Rourke.

Aboriginal woman prisoner activist Vickie Roach addressed Kat’s supporters outside the court. In 2007 she won the constitutionally significant case in the High Court about the prisoners’ right to vote. Ms Roach said that closing WJN would be the only way to achieve justice for women prisoners at this point. It was created and driven by the consumers she said. In her view, without Ms Armstrong, the organisation no longer represented women with lived experience but highlights the opposite. Instead, it now represented white privilege and the way the system ‘steamrolls’ over women who try to make a difference from the inside. This debate takes on an intersectional feminist approach in which the system’s agents mistreat the very women they claim they are trying to protect.

IMG 2773 Vickie Roach speaking to Kat’s supporters outside the Downing Centre

Inside the court, the prosecutor took evidence from the Vice President of WJN, Ms Nicky Petrou. She has been working in the Top End Women’s Legal Centre in Darwin and as the Managing Principal Solicitor of the Darwin Community Legal Centre, but today was her last day in the job.

She said that a working group collating evidence on the case found 49 unusual transactions conducted by Ms Armstrong. Ms Petrou had never been a signatory on the accounts and had not authorised any payments on any expenditure.

Under cross examination, she agreed that Ms Armstrong was integral to the conception and running of WJN. Ms Armstrong was taking on all of the burdens of the company whilst also working to fulfil her goal of having Board members and workers that had actual lived experience of imprisonment. 

Ms Petrou agreed that Ms Armstrong declined receiving both reimbursements and a set salary and gave money she personally received to the organisation. This included $10,000 she had received for the Unsung Hero Award.

While the crux of the accusation is that she had returned money that was lent to set up the organisation, without WJN board authority, the defence pointed out that most of the funds were given by Ms Armstrong herself. Ms Petrou corroborated that Ms Armstrong had paid numerous times out of her own pocket and had consistently declined reimbursement.

The focus was next on Kat’s financial update for donations from Breakout in the second last page of the Board’s minutes on 9th October 2008. Mr O’Brien raised from the witness that Breakout and WJN had similar aims and objectives, and they had a strong working relationship. Mr O’Brien asked the witness about whether the facilities in WJN were donated by Breakout. Ms Petrou said that she was not certain but thought the “computers came from somewhere else”.

Mr O’Brien then referred to the Board’s minutes on 23th March 2009, which suggested that the financial balance in WJN did not have sufficient funds to pay back people working in the organisation. Ms Petrou emphasised that “it is our choice to be a volunteer and not to be paid”. Mr O’Brien raised the argument that the wording in the Board’s minutes saying “Kat said that when we get further funding she would be paid back,” and recording the expense as an out-of-pocket expense would have caused Ms Armstrong to have an expectation that she would be paid back. Ms Petrou said that wasn’t her view.

The cross-examination was not completed due to Ms Petrou’s request for an adjournment to finish some work for her last day, so the prosecution case still wasn’t closed.

The police attempted to make restrictions on bail include no social media reporting on the case, however the prosecutor said that such an approach would be too far reaching on the freedom of speech and that the media exposure so far was the cause of such debate.

The matter was adjourned until 19th February 2020 for an additional three days hearing of the case.

 IMG 2779

Kat Armstrong and her support team

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