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NSW Introduces Police Powers To Search People With Drug Dealing Convictions Without A Warrant

Legal experts say the changes lack "sufficient oversight to ensure it operates fairly".

NSW Police Drugs

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Legal experts have expressed concern over new powers that would let NSW police intercept any person with a drug-dealing conviction in the last 10 years without needing a warrant.

The Drug Supply Prohibition Order scheme was launched on Monday in Bankstown, Dubbo, Hunter Valley, and Coffs Harbour, with plans to expand the rollout during its two-year pilot, according to the ABC. Police in these areas will now be able to stop someone on the street, or search their property or vehicle, if they suspect involvement in a drug-related crime.

“In practice, this means that even if a person had been convicted of a drug offence over nine years ago, had sought treatment, and were no longer involved in drugs — police could still seek an order to subject that person to unlimited stops and searches,” explained Samantha Lee, a senior solicitor at Sydney’s Redfern Legal Centre.

She told Junkee that without review and oversight, orders like these can see unlawful searches take place. “Whenever additional police powers are introduced, there must be a focus on what police powers already exist, and whether the new police powers are justified,” she said.

“All too often we see through our casework that new or expanded police powers tend to be used to disproportionately target people already vulnerable to over-policing such as First Nations people, youth, and people experiencing financial disadvantage.”

NSW Law Society president Joanne van der Plaat told the national broadcaster that the scheme would do “little to solve the problem”, and that it “lacks sufficient oversight to ensure it operates fairly”.

The legislation, first introduced in November 2020, will also be used by the special operation tasked to tackle a spike in gangland crime in the state.

“This is not just for young people who’ve had one conviction. These are people convicted … who are actively involved in their community supplying drugs,” said Assistant Police Commissioner Mick Fitzgerald after the announcement. However, the outcomes, and whether or not that is actually honoured, will only be subject to review in 2024.

Lee said Redfern Legal Centre’s police accountability practice provides free and confidential legal advice on police powers matters and police complaints to people living in NSW. Other services that can provide free legal advice on matters involving NSW Police include: Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and Legal Aid NSW.