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.

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:

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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.  

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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.

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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



Commonwealth Ombudsman: Only nine of nearly 2000 accesses to LBS by ACT Policing were properly authorised


NSWCCL is gravely concerned by a recent Report1 from the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which identified that many of the authorisations made by ACT Policing for access to telecommunications data between 13 October 2015 and 2019 were not properly authorised. Of the 1,713 individual accesses to location-based services (LBS) by ACT Policing for that period, only nine were fully compliant with the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act).

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Prime Minister abrogates his responsibility to look into the allegations of historical rape

2 March 2021


Prime Minister abrogates his responsibility to look into the allegations of historical rape

In response to questions at a press conference yesterday about allegations made by a woman that she was raped in 1988 by a man who is now a Cabinet Minister, the Prime Minister stated that he had reported the matter to the Australian Federal Police and that the Commissioner had indicated that there was “nothing immediate” in terms of necessary actions that he considered the PM should be taking. The Prime Minister said that he was awaiting the advice of the Commissioner on the status of “other jurisdictions” that could be potentially involved when the Commissioner was “in a position to do so”.

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Submission: Review of Section 293 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986

The Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) thanks the Department for Communities and Justice for its invitation to make a submission concerning the Review of Section 293 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986.


'It is submitted that rather than providing a specific exception in relation to false complainants (as proposed by option 2) it is more desirable to consider what the principles and objectives that are sought to be achieved by this reform, rather than reactive reform in relation to a single factual scenario. Each case will bring its own unique factual issues and circumstances. Specific exceptions will often fall short of adequately dealing with the breadth of circumstances and issues of particular cases. Rather, an appropriately drafted discretion has the capacity to deal with a broader range of cases, provide protections in relation to the factors which must be taken into account and prevent piecemeal reform as other issues and factual scenarios arise in the future.'

View submission