The Redfern Legal Centre has published a report entitled “Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police” which provides a most helpful and comprehensive review of the strip search laws enforced by NSW police up to 30 June 2018.
Firstly, it was noted that strip searches were used by NSW Police 277 times “in the field”, which means outside Police custody or in a station, in the 12 month period to 30 November 2006. In the 12 month period to 30 June 2018 the number of strip searches undertaken in the field was in excess of 5400.
The report was authored by lawyers and academics from the University of NSW relying on information and data from NSW Police records recovered pursuant to freedom of information legislation.
The data revealed that strip searches in NSW had increased by 47% over the previous four years but that this trend was not identified nationally. In fact, strip searches conducted in Queensland had declined between 2016 and 2018.
The authors of the report concluded that many of the strip searches were conducted with dubious legal justification and that 64% of the searches undertaken found nothing related to a criminal offence. Young people and indigenous Australians were disproportionately targeted with 45% of all strip searches undertaken involved people under 25 years of age and 10% of all strip searches in the field involved Indigenous Australians despite Indigenous Australians representing only 3% of the population.
More than 50 organisations are members of the legal profession, including NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC and former Chief Justice of the Family Court, Elizabeth Evatt AC indicated their support for legislative change given their concerns about the rise in the use and application of strip searches in NSW.
Brydens Lawyers are strong supporters of the NSW police and have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the NSW police officers fulfil their duties with the highest level of integrity and honour and strictly in compliance with the laws of NSW. Having said that we endorse the conclusion of the report which provides:
“The power to strip search is one that ought to be exercised in exceptional and serious circumstances only, consistent with international human rights standards and social policy goals such as harm reduction.”