Magistrate Duncan Reynolds ruled police do not have 'an unfettered right to stop or detain a person and seek identification'. Photo: Craig Abraham
A Melbourne magistrate has ruled that police cannot pull over
vehicles without a reason in a case that has reignited questions of
racial profiling by law enforcement. Police have long relied on section 59 of the Road Safety Act to stop
motorists at random to check licences, registration and for outstanding
warrants. Section 59 states that a driver is required to stop their car, produce
their licence for inspection and state their name and address ''if
requested or signalled to do so by a member of the police force''.
But the magistrate, Duncan Reynolds, ruled on Thursday that the law did
not give police ''an unfettered right to stop or detain a person and
seek identification details''.
Magnus Kaba, 21, from the Ivory Coast, was a passenger in a car stopped
by police in Ascot Vale in April 2012 as part of a random routine
intercept. Mr Kaba has been charged with a number of offences including
assault after an altercation when one of the police officers asked to
search the car. Mr Reynolds ruled that the evidence of the police officers was
inadmissible because it had been unlawful to stop the car without cause.
''Their conduct, in my opinion, unjustifiably breached the right to
freedom of movement for Kaba and the driver,'' he said. Police had also arbitrarily detained the men contrary to the Victorian
Charter of Human Rights, he said. The case has been adjourned until July
Mr Kaba's solicitor, Tamar Hopkins, of the Flemington & Kensington
Community Legal Centre, said: ''Many people from African backgrounds,
for example, have reported to us that they have been subject to routine
intercepts by police where there is no underlying basis for the stop. ''As well as interfering with rights, routine intercepts are a practice that is open to abuse.'' Liberty Victoria president Jane Dixon, SC, said the magistrate had
interpreted section 59 ''in a new light within the framework of the
Charter of Human Rights. It will be interesting to see whether the
prosecution appeal this decision.''
If police appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court, the case may set a
precedent under Victorian law. A police spokeswoman said: ''This matter
is still currently before the courts and Victoria Police will consider
its options.'' Mr Reynolds' ruling does not affect the ability of police to conduct random breath tests, which has its own statutory power.
Mr Kaba is one of six young African men who claimed in a separate case
that they were subjected to racial profiling by police in Flemington and
North Melbourne between 2005 and 2009. Police settled the case for a
confidential sum in February this year.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/police-power-to-stop-cars-under-threat-20130620-2oluv.html#ixzz2X0c5b72u
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