I wish to briefly discuss rights issues in Victoria insofar as they relate to police conduct. In any society, there will be times when the police or authorities will act in a way which infringes the rights of citizens. As the President of the International Commission of Jurists, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, has said recently, the test of a society is the way in which it responds to these matters. A society concerned with the protection of civil rights must ensure that such infringements must be investigated and steps must be taken to ensure that appropriate compensation is made and that steps are taken to try to prevent such things happening again.
In Victoria, primary responsibility for regulating the police falls to the Police Commissioner who acts through an internal investigations branch. Although this body generally acts well, there is the natural suspicion that it's Ceaser investigating Ceaser.
An additional safeguard is in the office of the Ombudsman. By way of background the Office of the Ombudsman was established under the Ombudsman Act 1973. The function of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints concerning administrative actions taken in Government departments, Statutory bodies or by Officers and employees of municipal councils. The Deputy Ombudsman (Police Complaints) receives complaints made by the public against members of the police force, investigates complaints and oversees and monitors the investigation by police of complaints.
In my view, Victoria passes the test set by Mr Justice Kirby. Not only has the Ombudsman reported, but the entire police force is to be retrained to try to ensure that the problems do not-re-occur. Such measures provide some evidence for the proposition that there is some effective protection of rights in existence. Let me look at these matters in greater detail.
Project Beacon was set up under Assistant Commissioner Ray Shuey to provide a revised set of training and operating principles for every police member and to develop Force policies. This reflects a refocussing of police attitudes to the current Victoria Police standard that `the success of an operation will be primarily judged by the extent to which the use of force is avoided or minimised.'
The high level of financial and staff resources committed to this training by the Victoria Police is a measure of the Government's commitment to this project.
In situations where offenders and suspects are armed or suspected of being armed and on conducting forced entry searches, police will, as far as possible, give a high priority to a planned "cordon and containment" approach where the potential for violent confrontations is high.
In authorising the issue of warrants for forced entry searches, police officers now must be satisfied that a thorough risk assessment has been conducted to determine whether the offender of suspect is likely to be armed, the safest option for action is chosen, and the execution of the warrant is properly planned with due regard to the safety of all involved.
The Protocol for use by police and Psychiatric Services staff in their dealings with mentally ill was finalised and published in September 1995.
These new initiatives aim to ensure there is a proper balance between the rights of community safety and the need to avoid violence where possible. Police have recently resolved several difficult and potentially dangerous situations peacefully.
Before the Deputy Ombudsman's Report on the Richmond and East Melbourne demonstrations had been tabled in Parliament, the Victoria Police had already implemented a review of the techniques used in crowd control and at demonstrations. These changes included:
Following the Deputy Ombudsman's Report on the Commerce Club raid which found wrongful conduct on the part of some of the police, the Victoria Police has prepared revised and radically changed instructions for searching people. These instructions were prepared following consultation with a number of community groups including the respresentatives of the gay community. They include detailed instructions to ensure the respect, dignity and privacy of the individual.
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