A class action lawsuit has been launched for people who believe they were illegally strip searched by New South Wales Police at Byron Bay’’s iconic music festival Splendour in the Grass in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The class action is the result of an inquiry conducted by the police watchdog, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) into the practice of strip searching.
Inquiry into strip searches
The LECC inquiry was conducted in 2019 in response to community concerns over the increasing use of strip searches by police, concerns that strip searches were conducted without being justified, and not according to protocols.
Strip searches are highly invasive, and they can be humiliating and traumatic. What’s more, research shows that in more than 60% of cases, the strip searches turn up nothing illegal.
A significant focus of the LECC inquiry was on strip searches conducted at Splendour in the Grass, some of which were found to be unlawful. The inquiry heard shocking testimony from a number of young people — most of whom say they were not informed of their rights or asked for their consent. They recounted the shock, fear, intimidation and shame they felt at being strip searched.
The media has also told the stories of children as young as 10 years old who were directed by Police to strip naked without the support of a parent or guardian present.
Recommendations for change
The LECC found significant disparity between what the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, the legislation which governs the conduct of Police, and what has been occurring in practice with regard to strip searches.
The LECC’s final report presented 25 recommendations to the New South Wales Government to provide more clarity around the definition of a strip search, along with recommendations for tightening protocols around reasons for strip searches and record keeping, and presenting more guidance on when they can be conducted, including making changes to police training manuals.
To date, the law has not changed. However the issue has not been front and centre over the past two years either, because music festivals have been non-existent during the pandemic, and like many other social issues of importance, it has been ‘shelved’ while the government manages its response to Covid-19.
However, the law firm leading the class action says that it’s lawsuit is not just about seeking compensation for victims of illegal strip searches, it is also about highlighting the issue and the detrimental impact that strrip searches can have on our young people. Of course, the increasing use of strip searches also erodes the confidence and trust that the community has in the police force. Anyone who wishes to know more about the Splendour in the Grass class action should contact the Redfern Legal Centre.
Know your rights
Seeking justice is important, however it is also important for everyone to be better educated about common aspects of the law, including being informed about your rights if stopped by police, for any reason.
In the case of strip searches, under the current version of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, general points to note are:
- Strip searches are permissible if an officer “suspects on reasonable grounds” that the removal of clothes is warranted for search purposes. If this occurs outside a police station, then it must be justified by “the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances.”
- You have the right not to consent to the search, but it can be undertaken anyway.
- An officer must state why a strip search is necessary, ask for cooperation, and ensure the search is undertaken quickly, efficiently and in a private area. A same-sex officer of the person being searched must undertake the search and only necessary clothing needs to be removed.
- If a search is to be conducted on a person between the ages of 10 and 18 years, or someone who has an intellectual disability, or impaired brain function, then there must also be a parent or guardian present. However, if police officers believe the search is necessary for the safety of the person being searched, they can proceed without a parent or guardian.
- An officer is not permitted to touch the person being searched.
- Children under the age of 10 years old can not be searched.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.