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Redfern Legal Centre has joined forces with class actions experts Slater and Gordon Lawyers to announce an investigation into class action claims against NSW Police concerning its unlawful use of invasive searches, including strip searches.

This unprecedented legal action would build on Redfern Legal Centre’s efforts to clarify strip search laws in NSW, and seeks to get compensation for potentially thousands of people who may have been unlawfully searched by NSW Police in the past six years.

Research by UNSW has identified that in just over a decade, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of strip searches conducted by NSW Police, with the majority of these searches finding nothing.

Data shows that young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been disproportionately targeted.

Law Enforcement Conduct Commission inquiries have uncovered systemic procedural issues such as inadequate NSW Police training on the legal safeguards required during searches and procedure manuals which provide incorrect instruction to officers on when or how to lawfully conduct searches.

By law, strip searches outside police stations can only occur when the circumstances are serious and urgent enough to warrant them.

Redfern Legal Centre police accountability solicitor Samantha Lee said: “The high numbers of strip searches in NSW indicate police are failing to meet legal thresholds and the law is failing to provide much needed safeguards.”

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission also found that a number of strip searches of young girls and boys were unlawful and NSW Police failed to apply and understand strip search law.

“Horrific stories of police strip searches continue to come to light, including from children as young as 10 years old who were directed to strip naked, squat and cough, lift their genitals, and have a police officer look into their body cavities, without the support of a parent or guardian present.”

“By seeking long overdue justice for people who have been unlawfully searched, this class action is also an important step toward achieving change to prevent more traumatic and unnecessary strip searches in NSW,” Ms Lee said.

Slater and Gordon Senior Associate Ebony Birchall said: “Unlawful strip searches are eroding community confidence in NSW Police, and people are entitled to expect that police will follow the law. There are systemic problems such as inadequate police procedure manuals which are providing incorrect instruction to officers on how to lawfully conduct searches.”

“People who have been subjected to unlawful and invasive searches by NSW Police have rights to seek redress. By grouping these claims into potential class actions, people can stand together and demand change,” Ms Birchall said.

Sarah Crellin Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) (ALS) Principal Solicitor, Criminal Practice, said: "The Aboriginal Legal Service welcomes the class action announcement from Slater and Gordon and Redfern Legal Centre.

“The ALS represents a number of young people who have been forcibly strip searched by police who already have backgrounds of trauma, cognitive and other disabilities. The excessive use of personal and strip searches by NSW Police is causing significant emotional and psychological harm to Aboriginal communities, particularly children and young people.”

Anyone who has been searched in an invasive or intrusive manner by NSW Police (for example, by touching beneath underwear or requiring clothes to be removed) since 2014 can register with Slater and Gordon Lawyers at stripsearch@slatergordon.com.au or can register their details at www.slatergordon.com.au/stripsearch

Registrations are free and confidential.

Media Contacts:
Slater and Gordon Lawyers – Therese Allaoui: 03 9602 6844 / 0428 994 937

Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) – Shannon Longhurst, (02) 9213 4112, media@alsnswact.org.au