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Issue #1615      October 23, 2013

Decision may lead to compo

Ten Aboriginal young people are among a group of 31 who could be in line for compensation following a NSW Supreme Court ruling late last month. The court found the young people had been unlawfully imprisoned over the past several years as a result of a faulty police computer system.

A class action, Konneh v State of NSW, jointly run by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, began in 2011 after PIAC became aware of the computer fault.

The court determined that police were detaining children and young people as a direct result of inaccurate or out-of-date information on the NSW Police computer system known as COPS (Computer Operational Policing System).

PIAC chief executive Edward Santow said one 14-year-old client was arrested, handcuffed and strip-searched on three separate occasions over a two-week period, and held in custody overnight on each occasion.

“Even though he was 14 at the time, NSW Police did not contact his mother,” Mr Santow said. “For many years, we have been calling on NSW Police to fix their computer system and compensate the victims.

“The court’s decision makes clear that bail information on COPS is unreliable. NSW police officers cannot rely solely on this information to arrest and detain a young person they believe has breached bail.”

A PIAC spokesperson told the Koori Mail newspaper that young people who had been falsely arrested could still join the class action. “We’ve heard from the Aboriginal legal service that this is happening too frequently,” she said.

“We want as many people to know about this judgement so that they can join the class action and be compensated.”

The NSW Supreme Court hearing, held on September 2, considered issues related to the class action members’ claim. The court was asked to examine how a certain section of the NSW Bail Act, which gives police powers to arrest people for breach of bail, should be interpreted.

The key issue related to those class members who were not on bail at all at the time they were arrested. The court decided that NSW Police have no excuse for arresting young people and depriving them of their liberty in such situations.

“Depriving a person of their liberty can cause serious harm, especially to a young person. In this case, the court has reaffirmed this very important principle,” Mr Santow said. The PIAC spokesperson said the judgement paved the way for the young people to be compensated and highlighted the urgent need for the system to be fixed.

The spokesperson said anyone who believed they might have been unlawfully detained should contact PIAC Indigenous justice solicitor Sarah Bassiouni on (02) 88986539.

Koori Mail

Next article – Qld gov’t set to wind back protections against mining

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