Class Action Against Sniffer Dog Strip Searches

A class action is in the works against NSW Police over sniffer dogs and strip searches. Lawyers are calling for anyone strip searched at Splendour in the Grass from 2016 onward to come forward.

Triple J spoke to a number of individuals strip searched at the Byron Bay music festival. Individuals frequently denounced having to strip completely naked, lift their scrotum, spread their butt cheeks and remove underwear liners.

Individuals strip-searched included 15 and 16 year-olds. Carrying an insulin pen was a repeat pattern amongst those who sniffer dogs mistakenly identified as carrying drugs.

The Splendour in the Grass case is being led by Redfern Legal Centre (RLC), in partnership with Slater & Gordon, as a precedent for strip search law reform. RLC principal solicitor Alexis Goodstone say they hope to file proceedings by the middle of 2022.

The Splendour in the Grass festival site outside Byron Bay.

In December 2020, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission finalised a two-year inquiry. It described strip searches triggered by sniffer dogs as a legal “grey area.”

In particular, the commission found that the police practice of strip searching large numbers of people at music festivals was unlawful, because “general intelligence about drug use/offences” at previous such events was not sufficient grounds for targeting random individuals at an event.

“We were particularly concerned by the apparent lack of knowledge of some police officers about requirements for a lawful strip search,” said the report authors. “Low rates of detection of relevant evidence during strip searches further suggests that officers have been routinely conducting strip searches without the requisite suspicion.”

The report found there were 5,483 strip searches carried out by NSW Police in 2018. That’s up from 277 in 2006. Less than one in three strip searches carried out away from police stations leads to a charge.

NSW residents will not be surprised to hear the report level the blame at the overuse of sniffer dogs, which have become a common sight at Sydney train stations, night-spots and bars.

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