Criminal justice & police powers

This group focuses on the laws, policies and practices relating to the criminal justice system, police powers, and the legal rights of persons with mental illness. In broad terms the group advocates for the protection of the fundamental rights and liberties of citizens (including the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial) in the justice system. These liberties and rights are currently under pressure from governments.

Letter: Police officers should not wear white supremacy symbols

It goes without saying that it's unacceptable for police officers to wear symbols associated with white supremacy on their standard issue Police uniforms.

However, over the past couple of years, our members have observed, consistent with increasingly frequent media reports, NSW Police Officers displaying symbols and icons associated with white supremacy.

Today we wrote to the Police Commissioner and Minister asking them to explain:

1) What policies and processes are in place to respond to members of the NSW Police Force who are found to be displaying symbols and icons associated with white supremacy?

2) What steps are being taken to ensure that NSW Police Force members do not hold white supremacist ideologies, participate in white supremacist groups or display their symbols or icons?

More information: read our letter
(The photos sent with our letter showed identifying details of the officers in question - you can see cropped versions on the right of this page).

We're looking at doing more work around displays of white supremacy and NSW Police as a result of recent complaints, so please get in touch if you have examples or stories that you could share: [email protected]



Incarcerated people are at risk as COVID spreads in prisons

Urgent action is required in response to the news of the worsening outbreak of COVID cases in prisons and the tragic death of a NSW youth corrections officer. 

We understand from media reports on 17 September 2021, that more than 40 NSW corrections staff were Covid-positive (not including staff at the privately-run Parklea prison, where the outbreak began) as well as more than 300 inmates across the prison system also testing positive, including 84 First Nations people. 

The risk we flagged in August, of Covid spreading rapidly in prisons, is becoming more likely by the day and it is crucial that all necessary measures be taken immediately to mitigate the risk of this happening. 

Read more

Concerns over policing practice and equipment

We are increasingly concerned with the policing practice of the NSWPF as it responds to the pandemic. Watching the escalation of violence in Victoria, we are also concerned with the possible possession and use of pepper pellets and hard squash-ball like missiles.

Disproportionate police response

In a series of recent media clips members of the NSWPF have approached and/or arrested several young men visibly of racial and/or ethnic minority backgrounds. In these incidents, the NSWPF have alleged the young men have not been wearing face masks. Police intervention of this nature directly undermines the common law principle that arrest is indeed a sanction of last resort.

Possession and use of pepper pellets etc

Prompted by recent events in Victoria, the NSWCCL is alarmed about the possible possession and use by the NSWPF of pepper pellets and hard squash-ball like missiles in the community.

NSWCCL wrote to Commissioner Fuller to urge him to ensure that NSW Police use the powers granted to them under the Public Health Act 2010 in a manner that respects human rights. We also asked whether equipment similar to that seen deployed in Victoria is being held in reserve in NSW and in what circumstances we are likely to see it used.


NSWCCL calls on Regulation Committee to review confusing Public Health Orders

Public Health Orders to manage the COVID-19 pandemic are being made and amended on the fly. 

Given the speed at which they are drafted, the constant amendment and possibly the lack of care taken in their drafting, they have proven to be incredibly confusing. 

They are almost impossible to understand - new evidence of the confusion that the Orders are causing emerges every day. Is sitting on a park bench or a beach eating something considered outdoor recreation? Is light walking a good enough reason to take one's mask off?

NSWCCL asks: how can the rule of law prevail where its subjects cannot ascertain the relevant law?

Lack of oversight

These Orders have a significant impact on our individual rights and liberties, effectively introduce serious offences, and are controlling the lives of millions of NSW residents - they should be subject to intense parliamentary scrutiny.

However, that isn't happening. The Orders are made by the Health Minister under section 7 of the Public Health Act 2010 and are effective immediately, with no review required. The checks and balances that usually apply to legislation are not in place. 

The Regulation Committee 

Since 2017, NSW's Regulation Committee has had a power to review "any instruments of a legislative nature regardless of its form, including the policy or substantive content of the instrument". Since last year, it has had the power to self refer. 

NSWCCL has written to the Committee urging it to take on the scrutiny and review of the Orders, whether that is through the establishment of an inquiry, public or private communications with government or otherwise.

More information: Read our letter to the Regulation Committee


Urgent action required over COVID cases in prisons

Until recently, NSW had seen very few COVID cases in prisons. But that has changed, with Croakey Health Media reporting on Monday that:

"In response to queries from Croakey, NSW justice officials last week confirmed seven (including one staff member) COVID-19 cases in prisons and juvenile justice facilities, the highest number in a justice jurisdiction since the pandemic began, according to international advocacy group Human Rights Watch."

This is of particular concern given the over-representation of Indigenous people in our prisons, coupled with their disproportionate COVID risk. NSWCCL is calling on the government to take urgent action, including:

Read more

Public statement:  NSW cannot arrest its way out of the pandemic 

It is essential that the people of NSW be united in their drive to combat COVID-19 and have confidence in the measures imposed by government. There can be no doubt that properly calibrated temporary measures designed to reduce the spread of the virus are required. 

But on grounds of overreach and disproportionality, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) is deeply concerned about the special powers to be given to the police, announced yesterday. 

We are also concerned at the imposition of a curfew and limit of exercise to one hour per day on people within the 12 specified local government areas.  

Read more

RDC: Why are people with a disability over-represented in the criminal justice system?

Last week the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability concluded Public Hearing 15, People with Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System: NDIS Interface. This was a continuation of Public Hearing 11: The Experiences of People with Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System. The Commission heard from a variety of lived experience witnesses, government agencies, disability services, academics and advocates about the nature of the ‘criminalisation of disability’ in the Australian context.  Videos and transcripts of the hearings are available on the Royal Commission website


NSW's Public Health Order and our right to avoid self incrimination

Update 11 Oct '21: The information we received following our GIPA requested was reassuring. However, we remain concerned: in the context of a public health emergency, it's vital that people do not fear any repercussions for telling the truth if this might incriminate them. We wrote again to the Commissioner noting that Police appear to have exercised restraint but also noting our ongoing concerns. We called for: 

  • The Public Health Orders to be amended to include a derivative use immunity to protect people who provide information or evidence to Police in the course of their enforcing the Public health Orders.
  • Confirmation that information transferred to another agency because it is ‘necessary to do so for the purposes of protecting the health or welfare of members of the public during the COVID19 pandemic’ would not include information transferred to Police with the purpose of issuing a Penalty Infringement Notice or Court Attendance Notice.

Update 23 Aug '21: the Police Commissioner has responded to our letter, suggesting that we make a GIPA request for the information we requested, so that's what we've done. Stay tuned for the outcome.

NSWCCL is investigating concerns that a recent health order appears to remove our common law privilege against self-incrimination. We have written to the Police Commissioner to seek more information about what's happening on the ground in order to develop our response.

The health order

Our concerns relate to Public Health (COVID-19 Additional Restrictions for Delta Outbreak) Order 2021 as amended to commence at 5pm on 7 August 2021, made by Minister Hazzard under s. 7 of the Public Health Act 2010 (PHA). 

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Concerns remain over incarcerated people's wellbeing during the pandemic

In June 2020, NSWCCL raised concerns about the physical safety of people in prison during the pandemic, given the difficulty of social distancing within a prison environment.

While it is reassuring that, to date, the number of COVID-19 cases in custodial settings has been limited, we remain concerned.

Firstly, we have ongoing concerns about inmate safety and the risk of rapid transmission of COVID should it make its way into prisons. For example, it has been reported to us that in a wing of about 200 at Cessnock, there is no social distancing, inmates do not wear masks, inmates remain unvaccinated and jabs have not been offered to some inmates.

Read more

NSWCCL calls on NSW Government to implement Ice Inquiry recommendations

Nearly 18 months after the 'Ice' Inquiry recommended decriminalisation, diversion, and a whole-of-government approach, the NSW Government's Final Response is missing in action.

Meanwhile, community support for a health and education based approach is growing: the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that 57% of Australians supported pill testing, while the most common action supported for people in possession of drugs including amphetamines was ‘referral to treatment or an education program’.

The NSWCCL urges the Government to publish its Final Response as a matter of urgency and to reconsider its opposition to measures that focus on health outcomes. It is time to fundamentally rethink our current approach to drug policy to better reflect our society’s values and expectations. We need an evidence- based approach that prioritises health and education and supports, rather than stigmatising, those affected by drug use.

For more: read our letter to the NSW Attorney General