NSW Government Silences Police Watchdog

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LECC law enforcement

NSW special minister of state Don Harwin announced on 23 December that the head of the sole state police watchdog former NSW Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams QC will be stood down at the time that his three year contract expires on 31 January.

This will bring an end to the tenure of the outspoken inaugural chief commissioner of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) mid-way through an ongoing high-profile investigation into the alleged widespread misapplication of strip searches by NSW police.

Designed to streamline police oversight in this state, the LECC began its operations on 1 July 2017. It replaced the functions of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the police division of the NSW Ombudsman and the inspector of the NSW Crime Commission.

Minister Harwin said Adams will be replaced by former Supreme Court Justice Reginald Blanch QC as of 1 February. And the Australian reported that the change was a result of a secret report sparked by complaints – none of which could be sustained – made against Adams by a senior member of staff.

Taking the bull by the horns

Just seven months into its operation, Mr Adams was already warning the government that the LECC was facing considerable “budgetary issues” that weren’t permitting “such an important agency” to be operating to the standard at which it should be.

Adams further spoke out at a budget estimates hearing in August 2018, claiming that in 2017, when the commission was being put together, then NSW police minister Troy Grant had directed him not to hire former PIC senior staff, as the NSW Police Association wouldn’t be happy about it.

Then in October 2018, the LECC launched its inquiry into the use of strip searches by NSW police, due “to a number of specific complaints and anecdotal information from a variety of community organisations”. This was amid rising public outcry against the increasing use of this procedure.

And more recently, Adams made accusations around it being police inside information that’s allowing bikie gangs to run the meth trade in NSW. On 12 December, he mentioned the corruption claims at a parliamentary inquiry where he again raised concerns about LECC underfunding.

Traumatising the public

The government did have the option to extend Adam’s contract for another two years. However, NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge set out in a press release that it seems to be a displeased NSW Police Association behind the decision not to renew his contract.

“This is a classic case of political punishment, delivered by the Berejiklian government, but ordered by the police association,” Shoebridge outlined. “His careful leadership during the hearings into police strip searches has clearly caused headaches amongst the NSW police leadership.”

Shoebridge has been one of the most vocal critics of the ever-increasing use of strip searches by NSW police. He released figures in 2018, revealing that over the 48 months to June that year, the use of strip searches in this state had increased by 47 percent.

The Green justice spokesperson also warned that there’s “real concern about the future of the strip search hearings” now that Adams has been given his marching orders.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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