Death Penalty

NSWCCL's policy is total opposition to the death penalty under all circumstances and in all countries.

NSWCCL has been advocating on behalf of the abolition of the death penalty in Australia and globally since it began. Now that the death penalty has been abolished in Australia, NSWCCL remains a strong advocate for Australians and others on death row.

On this page you will find...

  1. Information about the death penalty in Australia.
  2. Information about the death penalty in international law.
  3. Information about the death penalty in Europe.
  4. Information about the death penalty in the United States of America.
  5. Information about the current status and history of Australians on Death Row.
  6. Information about the current NSWCCL Policy on the Death Penalty.

  

Latest NSWCCL activity

Policing COVID-19 and the need for community support

Media coverage: Canberra Times

As state governments ease restrictions to varying degrees, Mr Blanks said that similar principles needed to be applied to exiting self-isolation as going in.

"That is you need very, very careful, sensitive enforcement from the police," Mr Blanks said.

"The police have to perform their role in a way that does not undermine community support (of restrictions) because one thing which could lead to a very quick loss of community support is if the police are seen to be picking on people unfairly, imposing fines as a first line of response instead of a last line of response, and imposing fines in ways that are not really relevant to the community health control aspect."

 

Read more


COVIDSafe Bill, Parliament must strengthen protections

The Australian Government has released the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020 (COVIDSafe Bill) which will be considered by Parliament this week. The COVIDSafe Bill largely reproduces the biosecurity orders which made it possible to begin to download and operate the COVIDSafe App (App).

The NSW, Queensland and South Australian Councils for Civil Liberties, along with the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, support the introduction of effective digital contact tracing if it is underpinned by robust privacy and transparency legislation.

The joint statement has been sent to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and Opposition Leader, along with all MPs and Senators. 

In the statement we recommend that a number of issues should be considered by Parliament for incorporation into the Act – or for Government action - to more adequately protect the privacy of Australian citizens who have voluntarily participated in this tracking exercise.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the statement - 'The civil liberties groups want the government to change the design to ensure personal data is not stored on a central database, arguing this increases the danger from a single cyber attack.'

'More needs to be done to ensure that the app does not compromise data protection and thereby increase the risk of illegal and inappropriate use of data or surveillance of Australians.'

Read the full statement HERE. 

 


Landmark report finds police conduct of strip searches unlawful

Police officers who conducted strip searches of children hadn't been properly trained and didn't understand the law on what they were doing, a series of landmark watchdog reports has found.

The conduct of NSW Police officers in carrying out strip searches of teenagers at music festivals has been found to be unlawful in a series of landmark reports by the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

The reports also criticised the use of police discretion in finding appropriate grounds to justify a strip search; and then the subsequent conduct of the strip search as it applies to people under the age of 18. 

The NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission said police couldn't justify ordering people to strip naked on a general belief that some music festival patrons would conceal drugs.

NSWCCL Vice President, and convenor of CCL's Police Powers action group, Eugene Scofield-Georgeson, said the report confirms that strip searches of minors at festivals must end. 'These findings are further evidence for halting the practice of invasive police searches of children, led by drug dogs, at music festivals'. 

Read more

The report comes only days from an announcement that police chief Mick Fuller is to receive an $87,000 pay rise at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, making him one of the state's highest paid public servants.

NSWCCL is alarmed by the recent $87,000 pay rise of the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who is now the highest paid NSW public servant, well ahead of the pay of the NSW Chief Justice by more than $100,000 per year. This pay increase also comes at a time when pay for public servants has been capped at 2.5% per annum.

NSWCCL is crowdfunding for a podcast series, Strip Searches and the Law, that will address rights and privacy for festival goers, and those approached by drug dogs/police. Pre-production of the podcast has been postponed during the COVID-19 health emergency.

 


NSWCCL amongst civil society groups calling on NSW Parliament to resume

Six civil society groups are today calling on the NSW State Parliament to immediately reconvene regular sittings, in a way that is safe, so it can debate and address important matters of public concern.  

The NSW community is looking to their State Government to guide them through the COVID-19 public health emergency. Issues including the impact the pandemic is having on people experiencing homelessness and domestic violence and on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be open to parliamentary scrutiny. 

As NSW teachers prepare to go back to classrooms next week, NSW MPs will sit for just one day to pass rental relief measures and are then not scheduled to sit again until September. Only with regular parliamentary processes can the Government respond to the community’s needs rapidly. 

The use of the Upper House Public Accountability Committee to review the NSW Government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic was a step in the right direction. However, the Committee is yet to hold hearings since its inception in March, and is not accepting public submissions. The Committee has, so far, not put any measures in place to improve the transparency and accountability of executive decision-making. 

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC President of NSW Council for Civil Liberties:

“There is no legal impediment to the conduct of safe sittings of parliament in the coronavirus context. Accountable government is a requirement of democracy and without it, intrusive emergency measures may become manipulated and entrenched beyond this crisis.” 

Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre:

“In responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the NSW Government has been making major decisions with significant impact on our daily lives and fundamental rights. We need Parliament doing its job, ensuring oversight and accountability – it’s an essential part of our democracy.”

The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, Chair of The Centre for Public Integrity and former Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal:

"Parliament can and should sit during this crisis. Increased public spending and government intervention at this time calls for more scrutiny, not less. Australian Parliaments should follow examples set in the UK of MPs joining the chamber virtually to allow full representation across Parliament."

Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre:

“Now is the time for Parliament to shine, not shut down. We can have confidence in leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic only when decisions are transparent, open to constructive scrutiny, and responsive to the changing needs of our communities. We need regular Parliament processes back in place as soon as possible.”

See the original release from Human Rights Law Centre HERE

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Nominations open 2020 Awards for Civil Liberties Journalism

New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties announces that nominations are now open for two awards for excellence in civil liberties journalism for an article or series of articles, or a radio, television or podcast presentation, promoting civil liberties. The two awards are:

  • for young journalists under the age of 30 on 2 June 30, 2020, and
  • the open category.

Submissions are welcome, whether by self-nomination or third-party nomination. Submissions must include copies or links to the material that is the subject of the nomination. 

To be eligible, nominations must have been published or broadcast in Australia between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, and must be received by the NSWCCL by 14 July 2020.

Nominations should be made online, to office@nswccl.org.au.

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC
President NSW Council for Civil Liberties

Read about last year's finalists and award winners HERE


Supreme Court rules on VIC Government COVID-19 duty of care to person in prison

The Supreme Court of Victoria has found that the Victorian Government has prima facie breached their duty to take reasonable care for the health of a person behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case, an urgent injunction brought by Fitzroy Legal Service and the Human Rights Law Centre, on behalf of a person in Port Phillip Prison with acute health needs, argued that people in prison are sitting ducks for COVID-19, and that it will only take one case to enter the prison for there to be an outbreak, which could not be stopped even if responsive measures are taken.

While the Court didn’t make any findings of fact given the case was heard as an interlocutory hearing, the Court did find that there was a prima facie case that the prison authorities breached their duty of care to safeguard the health of the person in prison, and that the Government must act compatibility with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

Read more

This is an excerpt from a news article originally published by the Human Rights Law Centre, 2 May 2020.


The right to protest should not be curtailed

4th May 2020

The right to protest should not be curtailed

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has grave concerns with the actions of the Victorian Police in the arrest of Chris Breen. To our understanding Mr Breen has been charged with incitement under section 321G of the Crimes Act 1958 for involvement in a protest car convoy. We are equally concerned with the issuing of infringement notices and fines of $1652 to 26 other participants.

On Good Friday the Refugee Action Collective planned a peaceful demonstration to highlight the living conditions for the refugees being held in the Mantra Hotel, Preston, The Mantra is being used as an Alternate Place of Detention (APOD). The purpose of the demonstration was to bring attention to the difficulties of maintaining social distancing and other hygiene concerns in the facility. NSWCCL has already voiced their concerns  with the conditions in APODs.

Acknowledging the social distancing laws in place at the time, the protestors organised a car convoy with no more than two people in each car. The previous day a similar convoy had been held by the United Voice Union and although there were threats made in the media by the Victorian Police, no arrests were made, as was appropriate for a peaceful protest

On Good Friday the Victorian Police acted otherwise, by arresting Refugee Action Collective member Chris Breen in his house, holding him for nine hours at Preston police station, seizing his electronic devices (including his son’s) and charging him with incitement under section 321G of the Crimes Act 1958 for involvement in the car convoy. Police also issued infringement notices and fines of $1652 to 26 participants in the convoy.

NSWCCL has a number of concerns with the actions of the Victorian Police.

We are concerned by the use of public health measures to respond to matters of political action.

We are concerned with the precedent these actions could have for future rallies, protests or picket lines.

In order to maintain the civil right to protest in Victoria we make the following demands:

  1. The charge against Chris Breen to be dropped.
  2. The infringement notices be revoked.
  3. The Victorian Police and Government approve future car convoys and other safe forms of political protest.

NSWCCL has also written to Victorian Police Commissioner, Graham Ashton AM regarding this matter. View the letter HERE.


Angela Catallo and Dr Martin Bibby, co-convenors, NSWCCL Asylum Seekers and Refugees Action Group

Media requests: Angela Catallo via email to office@nswccl.org.au.

 

See this statement as a PDF


NSWCCL calls for release of those in alternative places of detention (APOD)

NSWCCL are asking members and supporters to urgently write to a group of Federal Ministers warning them of the risks involved in keeping 100 refugees in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel, an alternative place of detention (APOD) in Brisbane, and 50 in the Mantra Hotel APOD in Melbourne.  We are calling for their immediate release into safe places in the community as part of the public health response to the COVID-19 emergency.

The risk in APODs is that they are crowded, and social distancing is impossible. Moreover, guards, service staff and others go in and out, generally without personal protective equipment. 

There are 9,900 members of I Have a Room, who have declared their willingness to look after asylum seekers and refugees in their own homes.  In APODs and Detention Centres, here, in Nauru and Manus Island, there are a few more than 1,400 asylum seekers and refugees. 

It is true that cases have been trending down: in Queensland in particular there have been no new cases of the virus in the last few days.  However, as Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on the ABC’s Coronacast podcast on Wednesday 22 April, there is a risk of a second wave of the virus, which would be worse than the first.   Moreover, there may be asymptomatic cases, with people who are not aware that they have the disease able to spread it to others, who may die of it.

We thank you for taking this action to help protect asylum seekers and refugees in Australian care during the COVID-19 health crisis.

- Angela Catallo and Dr Martin Bibby, co-convenors, NSWCCL Asylum Seekers and Refugees Action Group

Media requests: Angela Catallo via email to office@nswccl.org.au.

 

Please write in your own words, or copy and paste the example letter below into an email, and send to:

The Hon. Alan Tudge, Acting Minister for Immigration alan.tudge.mp@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs Peter.Dutton.MP@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Anne Ruston, Services Minister senator.ruston@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Greg Hunt, Minister for Health Greg.Hunt.MP@aph.gov.au

The Hon. David Coleman, Minister for  Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. david.coleman.mp@aph.gov.au


Dear Ministers,

You will be aware of the concerns expressed by Mr. Ed. Santow about the COVID-19 health risk due to overcrowding inside two alternative places of detention (APODs) for refugees and asylum seekers - that is, in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane and the Mantra Hotel in South Preston, Victoria.  According to Mr. Santow, social distancing is not possible while so many are detained there, and the lives of the detainees are at risk.

APODs are not isolated from the wider community--guards, service staff, cleaners and others go in and out.  They can carry infection in, and others will carry it out.  Mr. Santow's warning should be treated seriously and the response should be urgent.

I remind you of the consequences of Donald Trump's dismissal of warnings about the novel coronavirus as fear-mongering.

I am writing therefore to urge you to rescue the people detained in those two places from their almost inevitable infection with the SARS-2 virus if they stay there, and the likely deaths of some of them.   I urge you  to act swiftly and place them in community detention, or release them to safe places in the community. 

It is true that cases have been trending down: in Queensland in particular there have been no new cases of the virus in the last few days.  However, as Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on the ABC’s Coronacast podcast on Wednesday 22 April, there is a risk of a second wave of the virus, which would be worse than the first.   Moreover, there may be asymptomatic cases, with people who are not aware that they have the disease able to spread it to others, who may die of it. 

There are 9,900 members of I Have a Room who have declared their willingness to take an asylum seeker or refugee each from detention into their own homes. 

I urge you to take up their offers, and act before it is too late

Yours sincerely,

 

(SIGN HERE)


Download the letter as a PDF to print, sign and scan/photograph and send via email.

 

 

 

 


Privacy and digital COVID-19 contact tracing

20th April 2020

CONCERNS RE PRIVACY AND DIGITAL COVID-19 CONTACT TRACING

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the Australian government is progressing with Singapore-style digital options for contact tracing. The proposed app tracks, via Bluetooth technology, the previous close contacts of an individual who subsequently proves to be COVID-19 positive.  This applies to any contact (also with the app) who had spent 15 minutes or more in close proximity with the infected person.

NSWCCL is concerned with the potential of the app to compromise data protection, increasing illegal and inappropriate use of data and facilitating surveillance and stigmatisation of Australians. Any collection or use of a person’s sensitive personal data for digital contact tracing must come with the imposition of strict limitations.

Despite assurances that the proposed app is opt-in and therefore voluntary, NSWCCL has grave concerns over the safety and privacy of information gathered, stored and shared, along with the potential for abuse of that information. Widespread uptake of any contact tracing app and effective contact tracing will be dependent on whether the Australian people trust the government to take their privacy concerns seriously. It is possible that, as with the My Health Record, the app is transitioned to opt-out, or worse, becomes mandatory because of insufficient uptake. Equally concerning is the possibility that individuals could be excluded by their workplaces or schools if not using the app.

The Minister has said If an individual registers COVID-19 positive status, that information is sent to a national health storage and then sent to State governments to notify the individual’s contacts. Cyber-attacks and accidental and illegal data breaches have and will continue to occur on Australian government databases. It is therefore desirable that mobile device contact tracing be decentralised, with contacts registered in encrypted form on the local mobile device, and not identifiable to others or the government. Such measures reduce the fallout should a data breach occur.

In convincing the community that restrictions can be eased with faster contact tracing, the government should be reminded that privacy and health are not tradeoffs, one for the other. Both are possible with well-designed technology.

NSWCCL recommends that the Australian government consider the use of alternative more privacy friendly digital contact tracing options which are currently under development. These options are rapidly becoming available. The Apple/Google collaboration is opt-in contact tracing which generates transitory arbitrary IDs processed locally on the device and not uploaded onto a central server. Bluetooth anonymous identifier beacons notify persons who have been in contact with a COVID-19 subject.  MIT and the EU are developing similar apps. The EU DP-PPT model uses a backend server to push information through to notify the contact of a risk of infection and has purpose-limiting dismantling of the app at the end of the emergency.

NSWCCL recommends that the Australian government, at least, adopts the following privacy protections in the implementation of the proposed digital COVID-19 app:

  • Consideration of reasonable digital alternatives to the proposed model of digital contact tracing
  • Transparency and accountability, providing information about the development and use of any mobile device tracking technology and how rights of the individual will be affected and protected,
  • The technology must be opt-in after the provision of accurate and complete information about the extent of its use, with the requirement to renew consent periodically,
  • The ability to opt out or terminate participation at any time, accompanied by built-in destruction of personal data,
  • The use of best practice privacy and security measures, including:
  • short, clear and accurate privacy policy;
  • strict and express data retention and destruction policy, linked to a short period of application;
  • limits on the type of data collected and how it can be accessed;
  • anonymisation of data;
  • strict limits on data sharing, in particular no sharing of information between government agencies except for public health purposes,
  • Decentralisation of anonymised data on users’ mobile devices,
  • Strict limitation in relation to the purpose and objects, for which users have expressly consented. Personal data should not be retained for any new purpose,
  • A clear, short period of application – (the sunset period for Israel’s contact tracing app is 30 days)
  • An easily accessible complaints system and independent judicial oversight, to address any grievances,
  • No ability to subpoena data through court proceedings, and
  • An independent oversight role for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (or other government office) and the new Senate COVID Committee, with regular public reporting of data collected by the technology.

Beyond these specific recommendations it has been longstanding NSWCCL policy that the Australian Government should legislate for a Bill of Rights and a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy.

 

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC

President NSW Council for Civil Liberties  

------------------

Contacts

Michelle Falstein Secretary NSWCCL: Michelle.falstein@nswccl.org.au

Dr Lesley Lynch: Lesley.lynch@nswccl.org.au

 

 


High Court decision - limited win for journalist Annika Smethurst

Today the High Court unanimously found the AFP warrant to enter  journalist Annika Smethurst’s home in search of information relating to the publication of classified information, was invalid on a technical ground:

“that it misstated the substance of s 79(3) of the Crimes Act, as it stood on 29 April 2018, and failed to state the offence to which the warrant related with sufficient precision. The entry, search and seizure which occurred on 4 June 2019 were therefore unlawful”

Costs were also awarded to the plaintiffs.  

NSWCCL welcomes this limited victory for Annika Smethurst today - but we remain deeply concerned that freedom of the press and effective investigative journalism continues to be under serious threat in Australia.  This decision does nothing to alleviate those concerns.

The unprecedented raids on both Smethurst and the ABC offices occurred in the context of widespread community concern about the proliferation of draconian secrecy laws and the impact of these laws on the free press and investigative journalism in Australia - especially in relation to reporting on national security matters. 

The motive for the raids was clearly to warn off journalists and whistle-blowers.   The publications posed no threat to national security and the revelation of the information was in the public interest.

The High Court finding that the warrant lacked ‘sufficient precision’ identifies an apparent lack of competence in the AFP’s drafting, but has no wider implications for any protections for investigative journalism or freedom of the press in Australia.

The AFP -with the agreement of the Minister – is still able to press charges against Annika Smethurst.

Divided HC views on return of the unlawfully seized information

Surprisingly - even though the “entry, search and seizure” were declared unlawful – a majority of the High Court Justices refused the plaintiff’s application for the return of the information copied from the journalist’s mobile phone onto a USB stick. 

This was a particularly disappointing majority (4-3) decision.

A key agenda for the raids was the identification of the journalist’s sources which this information is likely to enable.

Whistle-blowers underpin much investigative journalism. If journalists are no longer able to guarantee their informant’s anonymity, investigative journalism and an effective free press will be greatly weakened.

The minority views of the three dissenting Justices (Gageler, Gordon and Edelman) on this issue provide a more positive perspective.

Justice Gordon was of the view that:

165 The law would take a seriously wrong turn if this Court held that it could not grant an injunction to restore a plaintiff, so far as possible, to the position they would have been in had power not been exceeded without the plaintiff demonstrating that, in addition to the excess of power, a private right is also breached by retaining what was seized. To require demonstration of some further or additional private law wrong as the only basis on which injunction may go treats the excess of power as irrelevant and ignores the constitutional purpose of s 75(v) of the Constitution.

Justice Gageler took a similar position:

117…I do not share their Honours' doubts as to the existence of a juridical basis for the final mandatory injunction which Ms Smethurst seeks, requiring the AFP to deliver up the USB drive on which the copied data is stored to enable that data to be deleted. And I disagree with their Honours' view that such an injunction should be refused in the exercise of discretion.

122 For so long as the information remains in the hands of the AFP, the direct effects of the infringement of her rights to possession of her home and of her mobile phone are serious and ongoing. There being no suggestion that the value of the information embedded in the data to her is wholly commercial, money alone cannot restore her to the position she would have been in had the trespasses not been committed. 

All three Justices ordered the return of the USB drive to Annika so the data could be deleted. Gordon and Edelman also required the AFP to delete any copies. Gageler was silent on this but flagged the obvious fact that nothing stopped the AFP from seeking a new and valid warrant for the information.

Legal and constitutional implications

The one application by the plaintiffs which may have had significant legal and constitutional implications was that:

the warrant was invalid on the ground that s 79(3) of the Crimes Act, as it stood on 29 April 2018, infringed the implied freedom of political communication.

This matter was not addressed by the High Court as it was not necessary given their decision that the warrant was invalid on technical reasons.

Therefore the huge issue relating to the encroachment of draconian secrecy laws on the freedom of the media in Australia will have to wait the outcomes of the pending report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on this broad issue.

This now very overdue PJCIS report will be very significant and carries a weight of expectation that it is not likely to be able to meet given the constraints of its terms of reference.  

In our view, the only effective remedy for the current immense constraint on the media’s capacity to deliver quality investigative journalism and to provide the reporting the community needs to hold governments accountable is a major rollback of Australia’s excessive secrecy laws and a strong human rights charter which includes an effective right of the media to freedom of expression.

NSWCCL Public statement 

Smethurst v Commissioner of Police