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
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