Legislation update: Reopening Coronial inquests and the powers to be applied

The powers of a Coroner in conducting an inquest are far reaching. In 2003 when the Coroner’s Act 2003 commenced, section 39 introduced a provision which allows the Coroner to direct and require a witness to give evidence that would tend to incriminate the witness. A Coroner may only make such a requirement if satisfied that it is in the public interest for the witness to do so.

There are any number of acts of parliament which seek to abrogate this privilege. The right to claim privilege against self-incrimination is the right of an individual to refuse to answer a question or produce any document or thing that might tend to bring the person into the peril and possibility of being convicted of a crime.  It is a fundamental and substantive common law right and not just a rule of evidence.  The right to silence protects the right not to be made to give evidence against oneself whether that evidence is incriminating or not.

In order to balance the abrogation of this right, the Coroner’s Act 2003 makes clear that the evidence which tends to incriminate the witness is not admissible against the witness in any other proceeding, other than a proceeding for perjury.  In addition, the Coroner’s Act 2003 states that derivative evidence, being information, documents or other evidence obtained as a direct or indirect result of the evidence of the witness, is not admissible against the witness in a criminal proceeding.

It is as a result of these provisions that the Coroner’s Act 2003 has sought to strike a balance between the abrogation of this basic privilege and the uses which can be made of any evidence provided because of it.

On 20 May 2020, the Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 was passed by the Queensland Parliament.  The bill introduces provisions to the Coroner’s Act 2003 that allow the repealed Coroner’s Act 1958 to continue to apply to a pre-commencement fire or an unfinished inquest.  The amendments allow a Coroner to stop an unfinished inquest under the repealed legislation and reopen the inquest under the Coroner’s Act 2003.  If a death occurred before the Coroner’s Act 2003 commenced, and an inquest is reopened under the current legislation the provisions and powers which allow a Coroner to require evidence that would tend to incriminate the person will apply.

It is important to remember though that, although this will remove the privilege against self-incrimination for many who may be required to appear before the Coronial Court in relation to an inquest, the use that can be made of any evidence given in criminal proceedings against the person is limited. These protections provide an important balance in the coronial jurisdiction.

If you would like any further information about the coronial process, please see our Coronial Inquests page, here.

If you would like to discuss a coronial inquest and the impact of these legislative changes on a pre-2003 inquest that you or your family have been involved in, please contact our office on 07 3034 0000 


Searching people | A review of NSW and Queensland Police search powers

The search practices of the New South Wales Police Service have come under scrutiny following a recent report by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC). The report, which highlights the importance of consistent and comprehensive standard operation procedures, found evidence that police had conducted a number of unlawful and morally reprehensible strip-searches. Given the serious criticisms levelled at the NSW practice and procedure for strip searching, we wanted to review the Queensland Police Service powers.

Queensland’s police search powers

In Queensland the police have broad powers to search a person and anything in a person’s possession without a warrant under s29 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (‘PPRA’).

However, the search powers may only be used when a police officer reasonably suspects that one of the prescribed circumstances applies to the person.  The prescribed circumstances include possession of a weapon or item used in the administration of drugs. There are a number of prescribed circumstances in the PPRA in section 30.

Pat down

The use of pat down searches by police on the street and in particular of children and young people is prevalent.  While there is no reference to a ‘pat-down’ power in the PPRA, the search of persons without warrant is covered.  The process for that search is known as a ‘pat-down’ search.  The process to be adopted comes from the Queensland Police Service Operational Procedure Manual which describes this type of search of persons as involving a search of a person’s outer clothing, a search that requires grabbing, squeezing and/or a pat technique over the outer clothing of a person except a person’s genitals, or use of a metal detector.

A common form of a pat-down is removal and inspection of an outer garment worn by a person or other items in their immediate possession. An outer garment is any item of clothing that does not reveal underwear or expose skin generally covered by underwear when removed. Common examples of outer garments include jackets, shoes, socks and hats. ‘Other items’ is a deliberately broad term. Common examples of other items include handbags, backpacks or other containers.  It is important that if you are stopped by police, you are aware of the limits of what police officers can search and on what basis they can search you.

Strip-Search

Police may require a person to remove items of clothing for the purposes of conducting a search, commonly known as a ‘strip-search’, according to s629 of the PPRA:

A police officer conducting a lawful search of a person under this Act may require a person to remove all items of clothing or all items of outer clothing from the upper or lower part of the body

The significant personal intrusion associated with strip-searches and the public importance of privacy are reflected in the operational procedures and legislated protections. According to the OPM:

A police officer’s or watchhouse officer’s general duty of care toward a person is not in itself sufficient justification to conduct an unclothed search. An unclothed search should only be conducted when a responsible officer reasonably suspects the person poses a particular risk and an unclothed search is necessary to mitigate the risk.

The discretionary decision to strip search someone should be based on factors such as the risk a person possesses something that is capable of causing damage to themselves or others, able to aid escape if detained or evidence of the commission of an offence. Other factors that should be considered at the very least include whether the risk can be mitigated by some other means, the circumstances in which a person has been or will been held in custody, the demeanor of the person and any known personal history.

Prior to conducting any search the police officer should, as reasonably practicable, inform the person that they will be required to remove clothing, explain why it is necessary to remove the clothing, and request general cooperation.

A police officer must adopt procedures to protect the dignity of a person during a strip-search. A requirement of dignity is reasonable privacy. This means that a search should be conducted by an officer of the same sex as the person where reasonably practical, without anyone else who does not need to be present. If there is CCTV in the area where the search is performed, an officer must ensure the camera is turned off. If this is not possible the search must be moved out of view of the camera. Exceptions to this is if the footage is monitored only by a police officer of the same sex or if turning off the camera would pose a significant risk to another. In either event the video must be handled appropriately pursuant to s 632 PPRA.

A strip-search must be conducted as quickly as reasonably practicable. During the search there must, if possible, be an opportunity to remain partly clothed to minimise personal exposure. For example, a person should be given the opportunity to dress their upper body prior to removing their clothing covering the lower body. A person should be able to dress themselves as soon as the search has been completed. If any item of clothing is seized during the search, alternative reasonably appropriate clothing must be arranged.

An officer must not, under any circumstances, make contact with the genitals or anal areas of a person. It is permitted for the officer to give specific directions that allow for visual examination. Common directions include asking the person being searched to stand with legs apart and bend over or raise their hands.

Children, or those with impaired capacity, must have a support person present during a strip-search. A search may nonetheless be performed if the police officer reasonably suspects further delay is likely to result in evidence being concealed or destroyed, or to protect the safety of the person.

What is the NSW Commission recommending

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) expressed concern with what it opined were inadequate standard operating procedures. Amongst other issues, the procedures were inconsistent, cited outdated legislation and failed to provide any significant guidance to deal with increasingly common situations. The recommendations of the commission included:

  1. The custody standard operating practice should provide guidance to police about how to form a suspicion on reasonable grounds that a strip search is necessary for the purposes of the search.
  2. The custody standard operating practices should clarify the role of the custody manager in deciding whether a general or strip search is necessary in the circumstances.
  3. The custody Standard operating practice should include consistent guidance to police officers about:
    1. whether it is appropriate for strip searches to be filmed by CCTV or other recording equipment;
    2. whether practices such as requiring a person to squat and cough, bend over, lift their genitalia or remove all clothing at once are appropriate;
    3. when it is appropriate to use force in the conduct of a strip search;
    4. the requirements for police to record the reasons for the search;

The Commissioner of Police has confirmed that the NSW police force supported all of the recommendations of the commission. The NSW Police Force implemented two new policy documents dealing with personal searches – Charge Room and Custody Management Standard Operating Procedures and a Person Search Manual.

Although the Operational Procedure Manual for Queensland Police has been updated in recent versions to provide greater guidance about factors to be considered prior to and during search procedures, the Queensland Police Service have not published similar specific and detailed policy documents or manuals for search procedures.

What to take away

People who are being searched, either by a pat down or strip search, by Queensland Police Service officers often feel vulnerable. It is important for you to understand the extent of the police powers to search and the circumstances in which you may be subjected to a strip search.

Written by Emma Higgins


Dear RSE Licencee holders – A letter from your co-regulators

On Friday, 14 February RSE licensees received a letter from ASIC and APRA jointly written to address the proposed law reform to the roles of these regulators. While this legislation is currently in the consultation stage, it remains important that industry are aware of the proposed expansion of the regulators roles especially when it comes to criminal and civil penalty provisions.

What’s this all about?

On the back of the royal commission into financial services, various recommendations were made in particular around regulation and enforcement. We have already seen a number of changes introduced to the ASIC enforcement process and the reforms released on 31 January 2020 are an expansion of that.

Under this proposed legislation, the two regulators, ASIC and APRA would perform their roles as co-regulators. APRA would continue in its day to day management of member-outcomes and developing a comprehensive framework of prudential standards and prudential practice guides.  ASIC’s role under this proposal would expand to the administration with APRA of more civil and criminal penalty provisions that relate to consumer protection and market integrity.

Should I be concerned?

There are some concerns that the regulators have identified that industry may have in relation to the proposed reforms.  As identified by APRA and ASIC in their joint letter to RSE licensees, the co-regulators recognise that there is likely to be some concern around the different roles and, I would suggest, blurring of the lines between the two regulators.  It is important that clear lines of demarcation exist in relation to who is responsible for investigating particular conduct and that industry knows when they will be required to deal with one entity over another.

The co-regulators will both retain formal enforcement powers.  It is a concern that APRA and ASIC have acknowledged in their letter may concern some and which they have said will be addressed by determining which agency has the best available tools to address the conduct. The way that is to be determined by APRA and ASIC is not clear from their current statements. However, it is important that there is clear guidance around when each regulator will use their enforcement powers. If both regulators were to use enforcement powers against a licensee, issues of double jeopardy and double punishment abound.

The reason that this concern arises is that under the proposed legislation, the relevant provisions of the SIS Act which will be co-regulated are:

  • False representation about status as an RSE licensee
  • Governing rules covenants for registerable superannuation entities and the consequences for breaching these covenants
  • Duties on trustees to identify multiple superannuation accounts of members
  • Offences for disqualified persons to be trustees, investment managers or custodians of superannuation entities.
  • Civil and criminal consequences of contravening the civil penalty provisions

Ultimately, it is proposed that APRA and ASIC have a role in administering the obligations contained above (among others) including, for example, determining and enforcing compliance.

What can licensees do now?

At this stage, these reforms are proposed only. The draft legislation is currently being considered but it is noted that the regulators do jointly support these proposed reforms.

If you are contacted by one of the regulators the following matters should be borne in mind:

  • Which regulator has made contact with you?
  • What are the powers that regulator has?
  • What is the issue that the regulator has identified?
  • Are you aware of any intention to share information with another regulator?
  • Are there issues of non-compliance being raised by the regulator?
  • If there are issues of non-compliance, is the particular allegation one that could lead to a penalty whether civil or criminal?

In the event that you are concerned about your response to a regulator’s enquiries or wish to seek advice before or throughout an investigation, our specialists are able to assist and advise you.

Written by Emma Higgins


Restrictions on the use of cash

On 24 October 2019, the Commonwealth House of Representatives considered the Currency (Restrictions on the Use of Cash) Bill 2019.

During the course of the second reading speech, the assistant Treasurer the Hon Michael Sukkar said of the bill “The government is sending a strong message to the community, and to criminal syndicates, more importantly, that using cash to avoid obligations and potentially engage in criminal activity is a serious matter that requires a sufficient level of deterrence.”

Over the past several years, there have been a number of changes to anti-money laundering requirements for businesses including law firms and financial institutions. This particular bill, introduces offences for entities that make or accept cash payments of $10,000 or more.  An entity will include, for the purposes of these offences, an entity as provided for by the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997:

  • An individual
  • A body corporate
  • A body politic
  • A partnership
  • Any other unincorporated association or body or persons
  • A trust
  • A superannuation fund
  • An approved deposit fund.

It is proposed that these offences would not apply to certain types of cash transactions pursuant to a set of rules.

Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors are leaders in the field and experts in assisting businesses, entities and individuals who are the subject of investigations into suspected money laundering activities. Our lawyers have specialist knowledge of the laws under which the agencies investigating this conduct, namely AUSTRAC, the AFP, the ATO and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) operate.

If you require advice in relation to your compliance with the complex anti-money laundering legislative regime, contact Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors.


ASIC's corporate plan for 2019-2023

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has announced its corporate plan for 2019-2023.  The corporate plan reflects the shift in ASIC’s focus towards litigation and prosecution.  Directors, companies and corporate officers must be vigilant to protect their business in the face of investigations.

The corporate plan sets out a number of strategic initiatives that ASIC will continue to implement and reflects the commitment by ASIC to implement the Financial Services Royal Commission recommendations.

The plan reflects a policy change through the proposed ‘Why not litigate?’ operational discipline. ASIC’s enforcement work will now be guided by the ‘Why not litigate’ operational discipline. It says that this policy reflects community expectations that unlawful conduct should be punished.  ASIC has stated their commitment to increasing and accelerating their enforcement work. This will likely result in a significant increase in the number of prosecutions being conducted by ASIC through the criminal court process.

The corporate plan also reflects the role of the newly created Office of Enforcement which commenced on 1 July 2019. The Office of Enforcement will be responsible for most important enforcement matters across the Commission and monitor and report on ASIC’s enforcement activities.

There remain important investigatory and decision making processes which ASIC undertake before a decision to litigate or a referral to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute will be made. A shift in ASICs focus towards prosecuting and litigating corporate crime will mean that companies, directors and corporate officers who are contacted by ASIC should seek advice from experienced corporate crime lawyers at the earliest opportunity in order to ensure that the impact on their business is minimised.

To learn more about the ASIC prosecution process and powers, please read our ASIC page and download our factsheet on the process.


Health practitioners and health assessments

Registered health practitioners are subject to a number of regulatory schemes administered by AHPRA and the Office of the Health Ombudsman.  It is important to understand the nature of the powers to investigate and assess health practitioners and students.

A National Board may require a registered health practitioner to undergo a health assessment if the Board reasonably believes, because of a notification or for any other reason, that the registered health practitioner may have an impairment.  For the purposes of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 (Qld) the word ‘impairment’ means the person has a physical or mental disability, condition or disorder that detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect the person’s capacity to practice.

As part of an investigation, it may be that some information has been provided which requires expert advice through a health assessment. This assessment may be used by the National Board to take action in relation to the registered health practitioner’s registration including in relation to the conditions of that registration.

The National Agency will appoint an assessor chosen by the National Board to carry out the assessment.  A requirement for a health practitioner to attend a health assessment must be made in writing.  For the purpose of conducting the assessment, the person may be required by that notice to give stated information to the assessor within a stated reasonable time and in a stated reasonable way or attend before the assessor at the stated time and place.  A health practitioner may be required to participate in a health assessment for the purpose of the Board investigating relevant information.

It is important for practitioners to be reminded of the right to appeal against any conditions imposed on the practitioner’s registration particularly as a result of these health assessments. In the case of an appeal to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, there are a number of review powers that QCAT is able to exercise to reconsider and assess the appropriateness of the actions taken.

In a recent decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal, Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia v HSK [2019] QCA 144 the Court considered whether or not QCAT had the power to compel, as part of that review process, a further health assessment to be undertaken.  The Court endorsed the decision of QCAT, namely, that QCAT did not have the power to compel a registered practitioner to attend a further health assessment as part of a hearing of the review of a reviewable decision.

A registered health practitioner should obtain advice at the earliest opportunity in relation to any investigation by AHPRA or the Health Ombudsman.

If you require advice, contact one of our occupational discipline specialists to discuss how we can help you protect your livelihood and professional reputation.


ASIC Investigations – Stepping you through the process

If you and your business understand the ASIC investigation process, you will be able to better manage the investigation with as little disruption as possible to your business.

The Australian Securities & Investments Commission is Australia’s company regulator.  ASIC is responsible for investigating company misconduct and enforcing company law.

A complaint is taken

ASIC may be informed of company misconduct from a number of different sources. These sources may include a member of the public reporting misconduct. This may occur when a client or customer of the business is dissatisfied with an aspect of the company’s handling of a particular matter.

There are a number of referrals made by other agencies and regulators who may report misconduct to ASIC. This is the case where there may be an occupational regulator whose ambit does not extend to addressing a particular part of the complaint which would be dealt with by ASIC.

There are also a number of reports which ASIC receives as required by law which may prompt an investigation. For example, through statutory reports from auditors, insolvency practitioners and licensees.

Scope is assessed

Once a complaint is taken, ASIC will assess whether or not the complaint falls within the scope of their regulatory responsibility.  If it does not, it will be referred to another entity or regulator as appropriate.

In order to assess whether or not the complaint falls within the scope of ASIC’s regulatory powers the following is considered:

  • The extent of the harm or loss;
  • The benefits of pursuing the misconduct relative to the cost of public monies;
  • The type and seriousness of the misconduct alleged and the strength of evidence supporting the complaint;
  • Alternative courses of action other than formal investigation.

The seriousness of the alleged misconduct includes a particular impact on market integrity or the confidence of investors and financial consumers will guide the course of an investigation by ASIC.  The regulator will look to the impact and consequences of the misconduct in order to assess whether or not it is worth pursuing.

The regulator will also consider the extent of the misconduct and whether or not it is a widespread concern or part of a growing trend.

Perhaps one of the most pressing considerations for businesses is to see whether or not ASIC would consider alternatives to formal investigation through other regulatory tools. Other regulatory tools may include engagement with stakeholders, surveillance, guidance, education and policy advice instead of enforcement action.

Evidence gathering methods

Once ASIC decides whether or not a formal investigation will be pursued, it has a number of information gathering tools which it is able to use.  These tools include:

  • Requiring the production of documents;
  • Inspecting company documents;
  • Requiring disclosure of information;
  • Requiring company officers or employees to attend compulsory examinations;
  • Compelling assistance with an investigation; and
  • Applying for a search warrant.

The information gathering tools that ASIC have are powers that compel information and documentary evidence from individuals and the company.  In relation to each of these powers, it is important that company officers and employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities in relation to that compliance.  Before you provide any documents to ASIC or any other regulator, it is important that you obtain advice.

It may be that while ASIC makes a request from you for documents, there may be no basis upon which you might be compelled to provide that material at that time.  If you are given a notice by ASIC which sets out a requirement to produce documents or information you may be compelled to produce documents or information. Before you comply with such a notice, you should seek advice from a lawyer. Documents may tend to incriminate you or the company in relation to certain aspects of your operations.  This can have significant consequences for you and the company if not handled appropriately.

You will not be required to produce documents which are the subject of legal professional privilege.  If you are unsure about how to comply with a notice given to you by ASIC, you should seek advice at your earliest opportunity.

Penalties for misconduct

If an alternative course of action is not available, ASIC will assess appropriate remedies and enforcement tools.  These may include:

  • Punitive criminal penalties
  • Protective action

Punitive criminal penalties can include terms of imprisonment, community service orders, financial penalties under criminal law and the possibility of convictions.  If you are facing a criminal proceeding for company misconduct, the penalties may include very serious consequences for you and the company.

Protective actions are actions which are designed to deter the conduct in a way that does not involve criminal penalties.  These actions may include disqualification from managing operations or revocation, suspension or variation of licenses and public warning notices. Although not personally punitive in the way that a jail sentence would be, these protective actions can have devastating effects on companies and businesses.

Preventative action

There are a number of proactive governance, risk and compliance practice that you can engage in to ensure that your practice limits the risk associated with ASIC investigations or to avoid ASIC investigations altogether.

It is important that you review your current compliance, risk and governance documentation, policies and structure to assist you to develop more effective frameworks.  You may undertake systematic file reviews or peer reviews in order to ensure compliance across your company.  You may undertake a legal risk assessment or engage an external advisor to review your operations.  Taking these steps may assist you to ensure that, in the event of ASIC receiving a complaint, you are able to demonstrate the proactive steps you have taken and minimize the risk to your overall operations.

How can Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors help you?

If you are concerned about a complaint of misconduct being made against you or your company, it is important that you immediately seek legal advice. Delays in obtaining advice can lead to significant consequences for your company and you as a company officer or employee.

At Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors we pride ourselves on protecting your interests in the face of an investigation by the regulator so that your business can get back on track.


Judge Robertson - See No More Evil

On 9 June 2018, the Courier Mail’s QWeekend published “See no more evil” an article chronicling the life and work of Judge John Robertson who recently retired from the District Court of Queensland.

Judge Robertson, one of Robertson O’Gorman’s namesakes and founding partner, was appointed to the District Court in 1994.  He was the first solicitor appointed to the District Court.

Terry O’Gorman, who worked with Judge Robertson for many years before his appointments spoke to the Courier Mail for the article.

“What has mapped him out as a good judge, and he enjoys a very good reputation across the legal profession, is that he is balanced, thoughtful and not a soft touch but also that he’s given a lot of critical thought to the issues of sentencing.”

“If what you expect in a judge is someone who is fair, someone who tries to fashion sentences that meet the expectation of punishment and retribution, while at the same time giving the person being sentenced a change to be rehabilitated, well, he walks that tightrope exceedingly well.”

Judge Robertson has been appointed to the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council as its chair allowing him to put his knowledge and experience in sentencing people to good use for the benefit of Queenslanders.

The full article has been extracted here.


MEDIA RELEASE - Melbourne African street crime Law and Order debate

4 January 2018

MEDIA RELEASE BY TERRY O’GORMAN PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES

The almost daily intervention and involvement by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in the Melbourne African street crime Law and Order debate lays bare the politics behind the creation of the Federal Government’s new Home Affairs Ministry.

Australian Civil Liberties Council President Terry O’Gorman said that Mr Dutton, an ex‑Queensland detective, is using his position as new Home Affairs Minister to politicise Victorian Law and Order issues to gain more Commonwealth power over State policing and to use the Home Affairs Ministry to interfere and gain advantage for Liberal Party politicians in the Victorian Law and Order debate ahead of the next Victorian State Election.

“When the new Home Affairs Ministry was announced jointly by Prime Minister Turnbull and then Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in mid‑2017, it was touted as an exercise to ‘break down the silos’ and maximise information sharing between Federal and State Law Enforcement and Intelligence Service agencies primarily to improve the fight against terrorism in Australia”, Mr O’Gorman said.

“Critics of the new super Ministry concerned about the concentration of so much power in the hands of Minister Dutton were assured by him and his Departmental Secretary Michael Pezzullo that operational policing decisions would remain independent when the new Home Affairs Ministry was created”, Mr O’Gorman said.

“Yet over the last two weeks we have seen first the Prime Minister support Victorian based Federal Liberal MPs attacks on the Victorian Police Force and the Victorian Government, and now we are seeing Minister Dutton taking his interference in Victorian State policing operations to a new level”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that today’s Melbourne Age reports that in a dramatic intervention in Victoria’s crime debate, Mr Dutton yesterday accused Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of undermining the State’s Police and the Courts with Mr Dutton saying that political correctness had “taken hold” in Victoria.

“Whatever the real facts and solutions to the issue of African street crime in Melbourne are, they are absolutely no business of the Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that Mr Dutton should butt out of State Law and Order issues.

“It is a misuse of his new role as Minister of Home Affairs to involve himself in local Victorian Law and Order politics”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that Mr Dutton’s adoption of Police Association tactics to insert himself into Victorian Law and Order issues justifies the concerns of those who not only opposed the creation of the new Home Affairs Super Ministry but also voiced opposition to the ex-Queensland detective heading it.

 

Mr O’Gorman can be contacted during business hours on 07 3034 0000

or after hours on 0418 787182

 

 


MEDIA RELEASE - Turnbull Government’s review of religious freedoms in Australia

3 January 2018

MEDIA RELEASE BY TERRY O’GORMAN PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES

 

Today’s announcement that public submissions to the Turnbull Government’s review of religious freedoms in Australia will be kept secret has been attacked by the Australian Council for Civil Liberties.

Australian Civil Liberties Council President Terry O’Gorman said that a fundamentally important aspect of all law reform which has been followed fastidiously by the Australian Law Reform Commission for decades is that all law reform submissions should be made public with limited exceptions for submissions containing private information.

“The Religious Freedoms Enquiry is extremely important and has long term ramifications for freedom and civil liberties in Australia”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that the Prime Minister Department’s position that submissions to the Expert Panel will not be published online but where individuals provide consent submission extracts may be included in public materials, is a totally unacceptable situation.

“The same sex marriage debate saw claims, some of them extreme, from opponents of same sex marriage that the successful plebiscite would seriously hamper religious freedoms in Australia”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that he will this week be writing to the Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department and to the Prime Minister urging that all submissions to the Religious Freedoms Enquiry be automatically published by the Expert Panel with the usual exception that if a particular submission contains obviously personal matters which unacceptably infringe on the privacy of a particular person, that part of the submission can be redacted.

Mr O’Gorman said that the Religious Freedoms Enquiry is the first major enquiry into religious freedom as a standalone issue in Australian politics for a decade, and the Enquiry’s recommendations will have ramifications for freedom of religion and civil liberties generally for decades to come.

“It is for this reason that not only should the submissions be quickly and automatically made public, but the deliberations of the Expert Panel itself should be conducted in public at least in part by way of public hearings”, Mr O’Gorman said.

 

Mr O’Gorman can be contacted during business hours on 07 3034 0000

or after hours on 0418 787182