Punters Strip-Searched At Splendour Have Been Urged To Join A New Class Action Lawsuit
Lawyers are calling for people to come forward.
Class action lawyers believe hundreds of young Australians were unlawfully strip-searched at Splendour In The Grass festivals between 2016 and 2019, and are calling for these people to join the case against the New South Wales Police.
Slater and Gordon has launched a class action against the New South Wales Police, following a 2020 investigation in partnership with Redfern Legal Centre into strip searches — more broadly — over the last six years.
“We think that people who have undergone an unlawful strip search will be entitled to substantial compensation, so in serious cases, the compensation could be tens of thousands of dollars,” Ebony Birchall, class actions lawyer at Slater and Gordon told triple j’s Hack.
“We haven’t seen a class action in relation to unlawful strip searches in Australia… so we think this is a really unique and important way to clarify strip search law, and to highlight this issue, and importantly, to get compensation for people who have been impacted by these unlawful searches.”
While the investigation looked more broadly at strip searches across the state, the class action is solely focussed on Splendour In The Grass — where strip searches ran rampant.
“The [NSW Police Watchdog] the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has investigated strip searches at Splendour in the Grass already and they’ve made findings that show that police lack training and didn’t understand the legal safeguards around strip searches,” Birchall said.
Under New South Wales law, “police can never undertake strip searches as a matter of course. Police must always be able to justify each decision to strip search.”
Police can only conduct a strip search if “the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the strip search is necessary for the purposes of the search and that the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances make the strip search necessary at that place.”
According to guidelines put in place by NSW Police, a drug dog indication (e.g when a dog sits down next to you at a festival, indicating it has smelled illegal substances) is not enough reason for a strip search.
“Strip searches are highly invasive procedures and the law prescribes a very strict test for when they are lawful. The circumstances have to be very serious and urgent in order for a strip search to be justified,” Alexis Goodstone, principal solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre told Hack.
“We know from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, that strip searches in the context of music festivals, for reasonable suspicion of drug possession alone, are not likely to be lawful and yet we know that at Splendour that was the basis for most of the searches that were going on.
In a statement provided to Hack, a NSW Police spokesperson asserted that the legalities o the strip searches are a matter for the Court.
“The test on whether a search was conducted lawfully is ultimately a matter for the Court. Police are required to suspect on reasonable grounds that the circumstances are serious and urgent when determining whether a strip search is necessary. When making that determination, police will consider all of the available information, including the risk of someone overdosing or dying.”
Junkee has reached out to Splendour In The Grass for comment, although there is no assertion the festival — or its organisers — had any involvement in the allegedly illegal searches.
If you were illegally strip-searched after 2016, you can contact Slater and Gordon via their website to join the class action.