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Action needed to prevent police violations of vulnerable people’s right to silence

MEDIA RELEASE

Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Aboriginal Legal Service is calling on NSW Police and the Attorney General to take urgent action after an independent inquiry found “a systemic problem” of police interviewing vulnerable people against their accepted legal advice.

Under NSW law, ‘vulnerable persons’ include children under 18, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other groups.

“An accused person’s right to silence is a fundamental principle of Australian law, yet legal services have seen police coercing Aboriginal children as young as 10 to participate in interviews against legal advice,” said Nadine Miles, Principal Legal Officer at the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS).

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC)’s ‘Operation Mantus’ report was tabled in NSW Parliament yesterday, delivering 19 recommendations. The ALS gave extensive evidence to the investigation in public and private hearings and is pleased that its feedback was reflected in the final recommendations.

An important recommendation calls for the Attorney General to change regulations so that police must assist vulnerable people to obtain further legal advice if they appear to change their mind about an interview. This recommendation and others were made in response to complaints from bodies including the ALS, Legal Aid NSW, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts regarding improper police practices, including promising bail as a strategy to encourage children in custody to participate in interviews against their legal advice.

“We are calling on the Attorney General to urgently act on this recommendation so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under arrest, including children, have further access to the ALS Custody Notification Service if they are at risk of being interviewed against legal advice,” Ms Miles said.

The ALS Custody Notification Service was described by the LECC as “of fundamental importance to the criminal justice system in this state”. NSW Police are required by law to notify the service whenever they take an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person into custody. Operating 24 hours a day and every day of the year, the service provides culturally safe legal advice as well as an ‘R U OK’ wellbeing check.

The ALS is also calling on the NSW Police Force to urgently implement all recommendations made by the LECC report.

 

ENDS

 

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s media release on ‘Operation Mantus’ can be found here: https://www.lecc.nsw.gov.au/news-and-publications/news/media-release-operation-mantus-final-report

 

Media contacts:

  • Bart Denaro 0427 950 312 (available Mon-Thu)
  • Alyssa Robinson 0427 346 017 (available Mon, Tues, Thu, Fri)
  • Both Alyssa and Bart can be emailed at [email protected]

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