Concern over increased police powers

Law Society president Sarah Avery.

FOLLOWING a proposal, which broadens police powers to “address” drive-by shootings in Canberra, the ACT Bar Association and the ACT Law Society are alarmed by the amount of power police will hold. 

The “Crimes (Police Powers and Firearms Offence) Amendment Bill 2017”, a suite of reforms to tackle outlaw motorcycle gang activity in the community, was introduced into the Legislative Assembly by the Attorney-General Gordan Ramsay yesterday.

In a joint statement, the president of the ACT Bar Association, Ken Archer, and the president of the ACT Law Society, Sarah Avery, said the ACT Bar Association and the ACT Law Society see these proposed laws as fundamentally re-drawing the relationship between citizens and the police in the ACT.

“The new crime scene powers contained in the ‘Crimes (Police Powers and Firearms Offence) Amendment Bill 2017’ have been drawn so widely that it would permit police officers to enter any premises without a warrant to investigate offences such a bike theft or shoplifting a chocolate bar from the local cafe. The premises need not even be the premises of the person who is suspected of stealing,” said Mr Archer and Ms Avery.

“Determined to be ‘seen to do something’ about drive-by shootings, the ACT government has introduced legislation that fundamentally changes the relationship between citizen and state.

“Telephone search warrants are available 24 hours a day, seven-days a week. It is not clear why the requirement of getting a warrant has been altered in such a fundamental way nor why the extraordinary powers envisaged by this legislation have not been targeted at the specific offending behaviour that has justified the introduction of this bill.

“As drafted, this provision will give all police power to enter premises without a warrant to investigate even the most trivial of crimes at any time of the day or night. Police will also be permitted to stay there and exercise crimes scene powers for six hours without the need to get a warrant, and using whatever force the police consider reasonable.

“The community is concerned to ensure that the police have sufficient power to properly investigate those who engage in violent and dangerous conduct, such as shooting at people’s houses. If an elaboration of police power is required to deal with that specific issue, the powers should be carefully targeted and should not involve such an indiscriminate and unjustified compromise of traditional freedoms and protections.”

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