“Trust us” has been the mantra as the Commonwealth and state governments enacted anti-terror laws over the past five years. “Trust us.”

So when we give sweeping, invasive powers of search and detention to police and security officers, we have to rely on their professionalism and adherence to the law. Indeed, you might think that we could rely on the law being adequately drafted to cover likely contingencies, such as what happens when people picked up on preventative detention orders are actually detained.

Well, according to a NSW Ombudsman discussion paper released on Wednesday, you might have grounds to question that trust. Up to now, the elite anti-terrorist squad in the NSW Police Force has obtained five covert search warrants from Supreme Court judges, but only enforced three. Seems they couldn’t covertly enter one premise, and they swore out the other warrant for the wrong address. Trust them?

Police can also apply to covertly enter premises adjoining their target. Four of the five warrants erroneously allowed them to enter the adjoining premises because the pro-forma warrant document offers that option by default. The Supreme Court judges are apparently supposed to cross out the adjoining premises option on the warrant if it is not explicitly granted. In three cases they didn’t. Trust them?

Police have 10 days to report back to the judge granting the warrant. In only one instance did they meet this deadline. Trust them?

And the legislation regarding preventative detention? The NSW Department of Corrective Services obtained advice from the Crown Solicitor in February that says current prison administration legislation does not apply to preventative detainees and corrections staff cannot use the anti-terror powers. So, DCS can’t enforce searches, prison classifications or segregation, conduct drug tests, provide health services, or even prevent escapes. Quite a balls-up in the legislative drafting, it would seem.

Trust them?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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