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NSW Police violated Indigenous teen’s right to silence - report

Callan Morse -

New South Wales police officers have been interviewing young people in custody, including Indigenous youth, in a way that compromises their right to silence in a significant number of cases, according to a new Law Enforcement Conduct Commission report.

The LECC's report to parliament, Operation Mantus, found systemic problems with NSW Police.

They included officers conducting interviews with vulnerable people after their lawyers told police they did not wish to be interviewed.

Released on Monday, the Commission's investigation began following a complaint about the arrest and interviewing of a 14-year-old Indigenous boy in northern NSW.

The Indigenous teen suffered a head injury which required hospitalisation after being tackled to the ground by police offers during an arrested on September 11, 2022.

Although the teen informed his Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer that he wanted to exercise his right to silence, he was questioned by two officers after being discharged back to the local police station later that morning.

Additional improper practices found by the investigation included police asking a vulnerable person to 'confirm' in an electronically recorded interview that they had exercised their right to silence, with police continuing to ask further questions about the alleged offence.

The investigation also found improper practise of custody managers not making a record when a vulnerable person's lawyer told police their client wanted to exercise their right to silence.

Chief Commissioner, Peter Johnson, said despite a number of court decisions setting out the problems with conduct of NSW Police officers, the force has failed to address interviewing practices which compromise the right to silence.

"This is a systemic problem and it is the responsibility of the NSW Police Force to give clear and accessible guidance to officers about how to properly approach the interviewing of vulnerable people in custody, Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson said a just legal system relies upon police officers acting correctly.

"The system where telephone advice is given to young persons by the Aboriginal Legal Service or Legal Aid is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice system in this state," he said.

"The fair and proper operation of that system relies upon police officers acting properly when the right to silence is exercised."

During the investigation the Commission held numerous public and private witness examinations, making 19 recommendations improve police interviewing, training for custody managers, using body worn video and the creation of guidance for officers.

A recommendation was also made for NSW Police Force to urgently ensure court decisions about policing are brought to the attention of senior police executive officers to inform the training of officers and prevent ongoing malpractice.

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