Lawyer Mike King named N.L.'s first police watchdog

After a number of investigations into incidents involving Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and RCMP officers, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons promised in January the province would establish a serious-incident response team.

10 active SIRT investigations ongoing, justice minister says

A man in a suit looks directly into the camera with flags in the background.
St. John's defence lawyer Mike King speaks to the media after being named Newfoundland and Labrador's first serious-incident response team director. (CBC)

St. John's defence lawyer Mike King has been named Newfoundland and Labrador's first serious-incident response team director, heading up investigations involving the province's two police forces. 

The announcement was made Wednesday morning at Confederation Building. 

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons promised a team in January following a number of investigations into incidents involving Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and RCMP officers.

The province's serious-incident response team will have the mission of looking into "matters of significant public interest that involve police."

Those matters could involve anything from death to serious injury to domestic violence.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons announced King as the director of the province's first police oversight team Wednesday morning. (CBC)

King is part of the well-known law firm Sullivan Breen King, and has represented accused in high-profile cases before.

He represented Ray Newman, who was acquitted of killing his estranged wife, Chrissy Predham Newman, in 2012. 

The case generated massive public interest, due in part to policing errors that resulted in a large amount of evidence obtained by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary being excluded from trial.  

King was chair of the criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association – Newfoundland and Labrador from 2012 to 2017. 

"I feel my years of experience as criminal defence lawyer as well as working prosecutions has prepared me well for the position," King said.

"A big part of doing criminal work is reviewing investigations and ensuring that they're done properly and appropriately." 

The Department of Justice and Public Safety said King was "selected for inclusion in the 2019 Edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada for his work in criminal defence; one of only four lawyers listed for criminal defence in Newfoundland and Labrador."

Director to build team

King will be responsible for hiring the rest of his team. The director can't have any ties to law enforcement but must have a law degree.

They'll hire an assistant and second officers from the two forces for helping with investigations.

Parsons earlier expressed interest in creating a team due to concerns he said he'd heard from the public about the province's lack of independent oversight.

Teams in Alberta and Nova Scotia have provided help with investigations in the past but can no longer do so, Parsons said earlier this year.

The heads of both the RNC and RCMP were on hand for the news conference and are supportive of the team to inspire public confidence in policing. 

The SIRT director will be allowed to lay criminal charges. 

There are 10 active cases involving possible police misconduct, and Parsons said King has the discretion to take those cases over. 

"That's something Mr. King will determine along the way. I think the big thing now is setting up the office, getting information, but he'll have every ability to review those," Parsons said. 

King will begin a five-year term Sept. 30.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ariana Kelland