Civil liberties advocates have joined the NSW Greens in demanding the state government reinstate the former head of the police watchdog who had vowed to investigate whether unlawful strip-searches should be classed as indecent assaults.
The coalition revealed in late December that the then-chief commissioner of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission wouldn’t have his appointment renewed.
The announcement came after Michael Adams QC told an LECC hearing the watchdog would examine whether unlawful strip-searches were indecent assaults.
The commission previously in 2019 had heard troubling evidence about young people being strip-searched by police officers at the Lost City and Splendour In The Grass music festivals.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties vice president Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson is concerned the inquiry is effectively being “scrapped” by the government because it “stands to be embarrassed by the commission’s findings”.
“The commission has been shut down at precisely the moment when it was poised to hear some of the most damning and dramatic evidence against routinised strip-searches,” Dr Schofield-Georgeson told AAP.
“What we would like in an ideal world is for Mr Adams QC to be reappointed as the commissioner.
“He was a robust commissioner who displayed the characteristics of full and frank disclosure.”
His removal was a “calculated, convenient and political move”, the legal academic said.
Reginald Blanch QC has taken over as the acting chief commissioner of the LECC.
But NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge argues Premier Gladys Berejiklian could reinstate Mr Adams if she asserted her authority.
Such a move would be “a strong statement in support of the ongoing independence of the LECC”, he told AAP.
Not renewing Mr Adams’ contract sent a “chilling message” to any incoming commissioner and other staff at the police watchdog, Mr Shoebridge said.
“If you challenge the police and you challenge this government then your funding, and indeed your ongoing employment, are all at risk.”
Greg Barns, the criminal justice spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, says it’s important the community has confidence the investigative tools used by the police are appropriate
“Our concern is to ensure that there are no impediments in the way of what is an important inquiry about police power and about the merits or otherwise of strip-searching because … it is a power that can be abused by police,” the barrister told AAP.
A spokeswoman for the LECC on Friday said that while the evidence into the individual cases of strip-searches was completed in 2019 “it is proposed to hear further evidence of the psychological impact of such searches once the findings are made in those cases”.