Legislation amending police powers and responsibilities and related citizens' protections was introduced into the nsw parliament in late may through the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment Bill 2014. Many of the changes were about clarification of the law or improvements in operational efficiency for police with no negative impact on citizens' rights and protections. NSWCCL supported these. However, some of the changes were less justifiable and had more worrying implications.
Our most urgent concern was in relation to the weakening of the current requirement that police must identify themselves when exercising their powers (eg arrest or move on) otherwise their exercise of the power is unlawful. The bill seeks to repeal the consequences provision. Failure to identify oneself when making an arrest or exercising other law enforcement powers will not render the exercise of the power unlawful. This is a dangerous amendment as it removes what has been a powerful incentive for police to abide by this important safeguard and accountability requirement that they give their name and place of work when exercising their considerable powers over community members.
Police irritation with the exercise of their powers being declared unlawful in courts should not be addressed by the removal of appropriate and necessary legal safeguards- but by police complying with them. This is a dangerous slippage of safeguards and accountabilities.
NSWCCL strongly opposes this amendment.
Although numbers of speakers in the parliamentary debate referenced our objections, the bill was passed in the lower house and will soon progress to the legislative council for consideration.
Noting that the ALP did not oppose the bill or move any amendments in the lower house, NSWCCL expects it to be passed without amendment in the council. For that reason, we have again intervened and requested both the AG and the shadow AG to-at the very least- consider strengthening the review process around the operational impacts of this change. We are proposing that the Ombudsman be asked to review the impact over three years rather than one year as proposed.
We expect the bill to progress to the legislative council in the near future.
UPDATE 25/6/14 : The amendment was passed without change by the NSW parliament on 19/6/14. The Labour Party and the Greens supported NSWCCL's fall-back amendment to at least strengthen the Ombudsman's review process but did not have the numbers to stop the bill proceeding.
This is just the latest in a series of amendments steadily weakening the protections and accountabilities around the exercise of police powers built into the Law Enforcement (powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 after the 1990s Wood Royal Commission in to the NSW Police Service revealed widespread corruption and abuse of powers by police.