A class action on behalf of about 100 NSW young people who were allegedly wrongfully imprisoned for breach of bail because of errors in the NSW Police Force database, will have its first substantive hearing in the NSW Supreme Court on Monday. Law firm Maurice Blackburn and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre say scores of children and young people have been arrested, detained and even strip-searched based on out-of-date bail information in the COPS database.
The problem, they say, occurs when the bail conditions placed on young people are either dropped because their case has been finalised, or varied to allow for work, study or family commitments but this change in status is not being added to the database. Officers are then allegedly arresting young people for breaching bail based on faulty information.
The lead applicant in the case is 19-year-old Musa Konneh, who was arrested for breach of bail in August 2010 despite his protests that the charges against him – for travelling on a train without a valid rail ticket – had been dismissed in the children’s court four days earlier.
Musa was arrested, handcuffed, strip-searched and spent the night in the adult police cells at Penrith.
”Deprivation of liberty is the most serious penalty that you can impose on someone – young or old,” said Maurice Blackburn’s NSW managing principal, Ben Slade. ”We don’t chop people’s hands off in this country, we deprive them of their liberty. For that to happen without justification is, in our view, unacceptable.”
After two unsuccessful attempts by state government lawyers to have the matter struck out, it will proceed to a substantive hearing for the first time on Monday.
Central to this is the fact that, under the NSW Bail Act, if an officer believes on ”reasonable grounds” that a person has failed to undertake their bail conditions, they can arrest them without a warrant.
The government will use this clause to argue that, while using faulty information, the officers who arrested Mr Musa and others like him were acting lawfully.
But Maurice Blackburn and the PIAC will argue that this section of the act only applies where there are, in fact, bail conditions in force.
”If a child, or any person for that matter, is not on bail, how can there be a ‘reasonable belief’ that they have breached bail?” Mr Slade said. ”If we are successful on those questions, then we’re in a good position to sit down with the state and work our a compensation regime for the young people.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.