It’s elementary: why investigation and compliance officers need to know about “elementisation.”

A recent case in the Planning and Environment court (Serratore & Anor v Noosa Shire Council [2021] QPEC 21) highlighted the importance of investigators and compliance officers knowing about “elementising” evidence.

And it doesn’t matter what type of investigator you are or what you are investigating. It could be an environmental breach, animal attack, parking ticket, Food Act breach, illegal dumping offence… or a multiple homicide. Elementisation is a key skill to allow investigators to properly identify the evidence they’ll need to prove the matter to the requisite standard.

In short, the Serratore case involved the clearing of land to create fire breaks. However, the land clearing was undertaken without approval of the council and was (allegedly) a breach of the Planning Act and the Noosa Plan.

Section 168(3)(a) of the Planning Act required Council to identify the nature of the alleged offence with “precision,” and to “identify the elements which constitute the offence.” The Court found that the enforcement notices issued failed to answer the elements in section 163(2) of the Act. The Court also found that each notice failed to properly identify the alleged offence including when the offence occurred, the fact that the offence was still being committed and how the clearing works constituted “operational work” as defined in the Planning Act.

As a result, the court held that there was a defect in the enforcement notices.

So, what is elementisation and why is it important?

Elementisation is a process applied to an offence or breach to determine the points to prove. In other words, identifying the proofs of the offence or breach. This is important because if all the proofs are not made out (or proven) then the offence/breach itself is not proven.

The craft of elementisation is one that can be learnt and is a skill that can be practically applied. And one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to do it! The advantages of applying elementisation is that investigators carefully consider the proofs, the meaning of the points (referred to as the “facilitation of proof”) and the evidence required to address each proof.

Sounds easy, eh? It’s really not that complicated!

Elementising offences as soon as you can allows you to achieve professionalism in a number of ways, namely:

  • By assisting with investigation planning, formulating tasks (initially). Identifying each of the proofs you need to prove and having a plan about the evidence you will need to gather
  • Identifying evidence gaps (ongoing and at the conclusion).

So, if it’s so simple, why are Australian private investigators and compliance officers not doing it?

First, it’s a concept that needs to be taught, explained and practised. Some authorities implement the process as part of their investigation planning. To master elementisation, it is a matter of practising it over and over until you start to grasp the concept. The emphasis is on understanding how to break down the offence and then analyse what evidence you need to prove each element in a court/tribunal.

Ultimately, elementisation is a focus skill in raising the bar of professionalism. And it can save organisations later in failed prosecutions, administrative reviews and reputation, as the Serratore case showed.

In the next blog, the elementisation process is explained in simple terms and relevant to investigated matters, particularly those that are not necessarily criminal in nature.

For information about our innovative elementisation workshop for your team, contact us here –