Criminal justice, police powers and mental health

Strip search inquiry cut short

NSWCCL condemns the premature closure of the inquiry into potentially illegal strip searches conducted on minors by police in NSW. The Guardian has revealed that the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) confirmed it will no longer hold further hearings as part of the inquiry, which last year uncovered evidence of the widespread misuse of strip search powers by police in NSW.  

The LECC had been due to hold more public hearings in either late January or February into the psychological impacts of strip searching on minors, but in a brief statement a spokeswoman for the LECC said it now had “no intention to call further evidence at this stage”.

The decision to cut the inquiry short comes just a month after the NSW government announced it would not renew the term of its chief commissioner, Michael Adams QC, which prompted accusations his removal was a “cynical” attempt to cut the inquiry short.

Held in October and December, the public hearings revealed a disturbing pattern of police misusing strip search powers on minors, as well as evidence that many police do not understand the laws governing strip searches. Police data referenced at the inquiry shows that routinely, strip searches are not being used only in 'serious and urgent circumstances', indicating widespread contravention of the law.

Evidence tabled shows that when 30 teenagers were strip searched at an underage Sydney music festival in February 2019, just five had an appropriate adult present. Presence of a parent/guardian is mandatory under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act for anyone aged between 10 and 18.

In one case a 16-year-old girl was fearful and in tears after she was forced to strip naked and squat in front of a police officer who then “looked underneath” her at the Splendour in the Grass festival in 2018.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties Vice-President, Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson states, "This inquiry was key to uncovering processes and investigating questionable practices. Reform is needed, both internal police practice, as well as legislative reform. Clarification of strip search powers in both the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), and in regulations, was recommended by UNSW law academics Dr Michael Grewcock and Dr Vicki Sentas in Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police. It's important people, particularly minors, are aware of their rights when asked by police to submit to a strip search." 

This issue is "about changing the conversation about policing in NSW," explains Redfern Legal Centre head of police accountability Samantha Lee. "It's a conversation that talks about minimising harms, securing dignity and still keeping the community safe."

Strip search practices raise major issues of police accountability. Strip searches are on the rise in New South Wales, with searches increasing by 46.8 percent over four years and on average, in 64 percent of cases, nothing unlawful is being found. Find out more in Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police, commissioned by Redfern Legal Centre and published by UNSW Law.

- NSWCCL President, Nick Cowdery AO QC

Contact: office@nswccl.org.au


NSWCCL, Redfern Legal Centre and 2SER are collaborating on Strip searches and the law: Project Podcast. The episodes will cover issues such as what to do if you, your family or friends are approached by police and or drug detection dogs, and what powers police have to search, seize, detain and arrest.

Will you help us make Project Podcast happen? We are looking for community support to produce the episodes. For an organisation like ours that relies on members and supporters to further our work, every dollar counts. 

Please support this project with a donation today.

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Correspondence with the NSW AG

In August CCL wrote to the NSW Attorney General on a number of matters relating to the administration of justice. We recently received a response from the Attorney General

We remained deeply concerned that, despite the Government Commissioning reports to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody, the statistics remain shamefully high. We remain uninformed about the details of the specific additional funding/initiatives. It is important that these initiatives are detailed to the community so that the community, in particular the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, are in a position to evaluate government action in relation to this crucial issue.

We call upon the government, as a starting point to:

  • Fund the Walama Court (specific sentencing court for Aboriginal people); 
  • Fund residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres in a regional areas (noting many regional areas simply do not have a residential rehabilitation facility, making it difficult if not impossible for people to access the assistance they need thus leaving individuals, families and communities vulnerable to the devastating impacts of serious addiction)     
  • Establish a committee led by the advice and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice and health professionals to implement the recommendations of the ALRC pathways report (insert link). The committee should include Federal and State representatives to ensure there is a whole of government response to addressing this important issue.

 

NSWCCL letter to Mark Speakman, Attorney General (26th August 2019)

Return correspondence from the Attorney General (Dated January 2020)

 

NSWCCL Action Group Convenors, First Nations Justice - Rebecca McMahon, and Criminal justice, police powers and mental health, Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson

 

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NSW mobile phone detection bill seriously flawed

A NSW Parliamentary Committee has recommended the Legislative Council should proceed to consider the Transport Amendment (Mobile Phone Detection) Bill 2019, including any amendments in relation to the reverse onus of proof, the use of artificial intelligence and privacy.

NSWCCL agrees strongly that mobile phone use whilst driving is a serious issue which needs to be addressed to protect the safety of the community.

We do not, however, support this Bill on the basis that it unjustifiably reverses the onus of proof and fails to provide adequate protections to assure the public that the information captured by the cameras is used for the sole purpose of prosecuting mobile phone offences.

NSWCCL also has concerns about the inherent risks of using AI to identify criminal behaviour given the lack of transparency as to the underpinning algorithms driving the assessment.

We welcome the Committee’s recognition of these concerns in their report and single recommendation.

The Bill should be amended significantly to address these problems before the Legislative Council approves it.                                                   

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns unjust detention of innocent people, urges return to 2013 bail law reforms

17 June 2019

Statistics released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (BOCSAR) have shown a significant increase since 2014 in the number of people refused bail, and then later found innocent. There has been an increase of 30 per cent in people denied bail, held in prison, and then later being acquitted.  In 2018, this meant 204 people, including 21 children.

Since 2014, there has been a significant increase in the number of prisoners held on remand, from a quarter of prisoners in 2012, to a third in 2018. Some adults had to wait over 500 days. The children had to wait an average of 124 days last year.

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties urges reform of NSW strip search laws

5 June 2019

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) calls for the urgent reform of strip search laws in NSW.

CCL President, Pauline Wright, said “A strip search is an incredibly distressing experience and should only be used as a last resort. Unfortunately, strip searches are increasingly being used by police in NSW as a more or less routine procedure. Many innocent people are being hauled aside and subjected to this indignity with deep and lasting feelings of shame and trauma being suffered by some individuals.”

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The High Court rejects appeal to re-try Bowraville murders case

26 March 2019

The High Court of Australia has refused to hear an appeal from the NSW Attorney-General in relation to trying the man suspected of murdering three Aboriginal children in Bowraville. The saga of the Bowraville murders has lasted for almost 30 years, beginning with the deaths of the children over a period of five months from 1990 to 1991. The disappearances were originally treated with minimal concern by the police, who suggested the children had gone “walkabout”. The police failure to gather evidence in the crucial early period doomed the attempt to gain justice for the children. In 1994, a man was tried for the murder of one of the children, Clinton Speedy-Duroux. He was acquitted.

According to Professor Larissa Behrendt, the police began to rebuild their credibility with the local Aboriginal community by appointing detective inspector Gary Jubelin to investigate the case. He gathered new evidence to try the same suspect, and presented it before a coronial inquest in 2004. It was regarded as compelling, and this led to a new trial of the suspect, this time for the murder of one of the other children, Evelyn Greenup. Once again, the man was acquitted. The prosecution argued for admitting the new evidence in relation to the deaths of the other children, but this submission was rejected.

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns Premier Berejiklian’s call for police to search homes without warrants

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s plan to give police powers to search people’s homes and cars without warrants.

The new powers, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, would allow police to seek court authorisation to permit searches for prohibited drugs and drug paraphernalia in a person’s home or car during a two year period. These powers would operate on a pilot basis across four police commands, including Bankstown, Coffs-Clarence, Hunter Valley and Orana Mid-Western police districts. They are intended to target drug offenders.

NSW CCL President Pauline Wright said “The Courts act as a check on the possible abuse of the enormous powers that we give to the police. If there is a reasonable basis for a search, the courts will grant the warrant. If the police can’t show a reasonable basis for a warrant, then it shouldn’t be granted. These new powers are not needed, and offer an unacceptable prospect of being abused.”

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties warns of vigilante risk in making child sex offenders register public

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) warns of the risks of the Federal Government making any register of child sex offenders public.

President of the CCL, Pauline Wright said, “The announcement today by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of a proposal to make a national register of child sex offenders public is both unnecessary and dangerous. Every Australian State and Territory has already brought in a law based on a national model requiring people found guilty of serious child sex offending to be entered on a register of offenders. This register allows police across jurisdictions to share information about people on the register.”

Ms Wright said “It is one thing to allow law enforcement and parole authorities access to information on a register of child sex offenders, but allowing members of the public access would open the gate for vindictive vigilante action against people in the community who have already been punished by a court.”

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Breakthrough on national anti-corruption commission?

Today Cathy McGowan (independent MP) succeeded in having her National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 read for the first time in the Lower House.  Two hours later the House joined the Senate in calling on the Morrison Government “to establish a national anti-corruption commission.”

Even the Government appeared to give support to the broad concept.

This is the most positive stance we have had from our national politicians on this long overdue critical reform.  

However, it was short lived. 

Attorney General Christian Porter spent most of his ‘supporting’ speech trashing the model proposed by the cross-bench and warning of the dangers of such bodies.

By Question Time it was clear that the Government’s early support was nothing but a tactic to avoid being defeated on the McGowan Bill in the House. 

The momentary prospect of a serious attempt to build a broad consensus within Parliament on this critical issue has been sadly and recklessly abandoned by the Government.

The establishment of a national integrity body is an urgent and necessary reform to restore trust in our democratic processes and politicians.

The NSWCCL urges the Australian Parliament to move forward on this issue quickly - building in the enormous amount of work already been done inside and outside of Parliament on an appropriately balanced model.

We urge the Government to accept the widespread support for a strong and broadly-based anti-corruption body and give serious support to the process.

This very important reform for the public good should – and could - be achieved before the next election.   

 

To see NSWCCL's position on ICAC, see our submission to the Senate Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission in 2017. See also our statement here from 2017.

 

Contacts in relation to this statement.

Pauline Wright

President

NSWCCL

0418 292 656

 

Stephen Blanks

Treasurer

NSWCCL

0414 448 654

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Vale Ken Horler QC

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is deeply saddened by the death of Ken Horler QC who was a major force in this organisation from its earliest days. From the 1960s to the late 1980’s Ken held numbers of key positions in the CCL including Vice President and, from 1987-92, President. His active contribution to civil liberties took on many forms and encompassed the most pressing of civil liberties issues.

Read our reflection on his contribution to the promotion of civil liberties here. Ken Horler QC Obituary

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