In response to public concerns about the police power to conduct strip searches, in 1999 the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) undertook an inquiry into the laws, policies and procedures relating to strip searches by Queensland Police Service (QPS) officers. As almost all strip searches are conducted in watchhouses, the inquiry was limited to watchhouses. The inquiry involved:
- reviewing submissions to an Issues Paper published in December 1999
- community consultation meetings chaired by Brendan Butler SC in Cairns and Townsville
- extensive consultation with the QPS (e.g. Commissioner's Inspectorate, watchhouse managers)
- public hearings held in Brisbane presided over by all CJC Commissioners
- a survey of all strip searches conducted at 10 watchhouses throughout Queensland for one week.
On 10 and 11 February 2000, the CJC held public hearings into issues relevant to this inquiry.
The inquiry found that, on the whole, QPS officers were exercising their powers properly, often in very difficult circumstances. Inadequate recording of relevant information and inconsistent practices relating to strip searches of certain categories of detainees were two of the main problem areas raised during the consultation process. As a result of the inquiry, the CJC made 66 recommendations to amend QPS procedures and certain legislative provisions.
General principles governing this inquiry
The CJC has been guided in this inquiry by the following principles, which have also influenced its recommendations:
- A person’s physical integrity is a fundamental right that should be respected even in situations where the person is in custody. A strip search is an affront to a person’s physical integrity. A person should not be subjected to a strip search without a justifiable reason.
- Given the intrusiveness of the police power to conduct strip searches, there need to be strict accountability processes.
- Policies and procedures relating to strip searches need to be simple, practical and consistent.
- QPS officers are entitled to clear guidance on when and how to conduct strip searches.
- Recommendations requiring legislative amendments should be kept to a minimum to facilitate early implementation and future adjustments. The Police Responsibilities Code and the QPS Manual will generally be easier to amend than the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act.
- At all times the watchhouse manager’s principal concern must be the health and safety of all people in the watchhouse.
The CJC received 44 submissions to our Police Powers in Queensland: Strip Searching Issues Paper published in December 1999. Many of the submissions formed the basis for the community consultation meetings and the public hearings.
Respondents to Issues Paper:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board
Anti-Discrimination Commission, Queensland
Aspinall, G. (QPS)
Bar Association of Queensland
Brady, Pastor M.
Cavanagh, S. (QPS)
Central Queensland Community Legal Centre
Children’s Committee, Queensland Law Society
Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Highway Legal Service
Condon, M. (QPS)
Corrective Services Department
Culliford, Dr E.
Hasenkam, G. (QPS)
Hill, M. (QPS)
Holcombe, V.H. (QPS)
Hunt, D.J. (QPS)
Leafe, M. (QPS)
Lee Turnbull & Co., Solicitors
Legal Aid Queensland
National Children’s and Youth Law Centre
Office of Women’s Policy, Department of Equity and Fair Trading
Prisoners’ Legal Service Inc.
Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Services Secretariat Limited
Queensland Police Service
Queensland Police Union of Employees
Sisters Inside Inc.
Williams, P. (QPS)
Youth Advocacy Centre Inc.
Youth Advocate, Legal Aid Queensland
Youth & Family Service (Logan City) Inc.