Law enforcement agencies are constantly demanding greater powers, despite dramatic recent increases in their powers of investigation and arrest, and even immunities from prosecution for criminal offences in certain situations.
The Police Association is now demanding that officers have the right to take their guns inside courtrooms, and mass meetings are reportedly about to commence in a bid to force the change.
But is this really necessary, or even desirable?
Let’s take a look at the current law in NSW.
What is the current law?
When it comes to court security, there are rules about what items can be take into courthouses – and this applies to police too!
Under section 8 of the Court Security Act 2005, it is an offence to carry a restricted item into a courthouse. This includes any firearm, imitation firearm, knife, bomb, grenade, crossbow, spear gun, slingshot, baton, knuckle dusters, handcuffs, body armour vests.
Body-scanners at courthouses like the Downing Centre Court check each person who enters the courthouse to ensure that no one brings in a prohibited item.
The rules currently say that police must take off their guns – but they are still allowed to carry their extendable batons, handcuffs and pepper spray.
Police can also seek permission from the court to carry firearms in high-risk cases.
The NSW Police Association President Scott Weber claims that police of all ranks need access to firearms in all locations to protect themselves and the community.
He says that the current restrictions are “ludicrous” and that “the safety of both police officers and the community is at risk… It is a tragedy waiting to happen.”
One police officer said “it makes sense, that’s where all the bad guys are.” Of course, not everyone in court is a ‘bad guy’ – in fact, the most likely defendant you will come across is a drink-driver or a young drug possessor.
In fact, those who are suspected of more serious offences will normally be in custody refused bail, and Corrections Officers and Court Sherrifs have done a good job preventing any incidents to date.
So are police using fear-mongering in order to demand more power, or is there a genuine need for more police power?
Despite the security scans, Weber argues that even at a place like the Downing Centre, it would be possible to take in a ceramic 3D gun or knife which would not be detected by the scanners.
Police argue that courts are becoming increasingly dangerous, and could even be the site for terrorist attacks.
While there have been allegations that terror plots have targeted courthouses, there is no actual evidence that this has ever occurred.
Views of the judiciary and lawyers
Judges and criminal lawyers are not convinced that police taking firearms into court is necessary, or desirable.
The Chief Magistrate has so far refused to allow police to bring firearms into court, and perhaps for good reason.
Like many other experienced criminal lawyers, I have personally cross-examined hundreds of police officers on the witness stand – causing many of them to become visibly frustrated, red-faced and angry; especially when their untruths are exposed. The last thing I would want is a furious police officer with a gun on the witness stand.
The mere fact of police having guns in court would, in my view, give them an aura of great authority and power – where any such authority should rest with magistrates, judges and court sheriffs. And for criminal lawyers, having to question someone who has possession of a gun has obvious psychological implications; especially when the cross-examination is lengthy and involves credibility. Such a situation would, in my view, be contrary to the interests of justice.
Police having body armour, batons, handcuffs and pepper spray in an environment where others are unarmed is enough. Guns are simply unnecessary.
The debate about guns in the courtroom has been going on for months, with police even threatening to black-ban giving evidence in court unless their demands are met. This is despite the lack of any evidence being put forward that police need to have guns inside court.
Negotiations are still going on between the judiciary, police and the NSW government.
One spokesperson from the NSW Department of Justice said that court security was being reviewed to ensure that “all users” are being protected.