A Wollongong judge has called for an urgent review of the legislation governing police powers for on-the-spot arrests, following a court challenge yesterday over the legality of an arrest in April this year.
Wollongong District Court presiding judge Paul Conlon yesterday raised concerns over certain sections in the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Ac 2002.
This sets out the legislative requirements police must comply with when carrying out their day-to-day duties.
Judge Conlon said Section 99 of the Act, outlining the powers police have to arrest someone without a warrant, focused on ‘‘preserving the safety or welfare of the [arrested] person’’ but failed to adequately consider the safety of other people at the scene.
His comments came during a court case yesterday in which Illawarra man Keith Johnson claimed he was unlawfully arrested on April 6.
The court heard officers went to a Mangerton property after reports of an assault. When they arrived they found Johnson and a woman standing near a letterbox.
Johnson told police he had rung paramedics as the woman had ‘‘kicked me in the balls a couple of times, so I kneed her to the face’’.
The woman had a swollen and blackened eye.
Officers observed the pair to be drug and alcohol-affected and they were both becoming aggressive. When the woman went to get treatment from waiting paramedics, Johnson attempted to walk after her, prompting one of the officers to take hold of Johnson’s arm and tell him to let her go.
Johnson became aggressive and violent towards the officer, who then arrested him.
Johnson’s defence lawyers argued in court their client’s arrest had been unlawful, as the officer had failed to establish, and voice, a reason for the arrest.
However Judge Conlon rejected that assertion, saying he was satisfied on evidence given by the officer that he had arrested Johnson in order to prevent him from making further violent outbursts.
Judge Conlon said the legislation surrounding police arrest powers was too narrow in its focus.
‘‘The community would be entitled to be concerned that the provisions of this section simply do not take account of the extreme variables that confront police officers dealing with aggressive, violent situations, especially when persons are under the influence of drugs,’’ he said.
‘‘Police officers need to be able to effectively and expeditiously deal with such offences without having to get out a copy [of the legislation]...before effecting the arrest.’’
Judge Conlon said in his view the law needed urgent amendment to allow officers to consider the safety of other people on the scene, for example victims or ambulance paramedics, when establishing grounds for an arrest.
‘‘In my view, this section needs to be relegislated by persons who have a realistic appreciation of the many volatile situations in which it is desirable for arrests to be effected by police officers,’’ he said.