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Media Release - Operation Mantus Final Report

NSW Police Force compromising right to silence of vulnerable people

Monday, 11 December 2023

A new Law Enforcement Conduct Commission report has found that NSW police officers have been interviewing young persons in custody in a way that compromises their right to silence in a significant number of cases.

The Commission’s report to Parliament on its Operation Mantus investigation found systemic problems with police officers interviewing vulnerable people after their lawyers told police they did not wish to be interviewed.

Chief Commissioner Peter Johnson SC highlighted the importance of the NSW Police Force taking timely action.

“The NSW Police Force has failed to address interviewing practices which compromise the right to silence, despite a number of court decisions setting out the problems with these practices.

“This is a systemic problem and it is the responsibility of the NSW Police Force to give clear and accessible guidance to officers about how to properly approach the interviewing of vulnerable people in custody.

“The system where telephone advice is given to young persons by the Aboriginal Legal Service or Legal Aid is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice system in this State. The fair and proper operation of that system relies upon police officers acting properly when the right to silence is exercised” he said.

The Commission investigation found improper practices such as police asking a vulnerable person to ‘confirm’ in an electronically recorded interview that they had exercised their right to silence, after which police would ask further questions about the alleged offence.

Custody managers not making a record when a vulnerable person’s lawyer told police their client wanted to exercise their right to silence, was another improper practice the Commission found.

The Commission’s investigation began after a complaint about the arrest and interviewing of a 14-year-old Aboriginal boy in Northern NSW.

The investigation also considered complaints made by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions about NSW police interviewing practices.

The Commission held a number of public and private witness examinations.  It made 19 recommendations to improve police interviewing, training for custody managers, using body worn video and the creation of guidance for officers.

The NSW Police Force should urgently ensure that court decisions about policing are  brought to the attention of senior police executive officers to inform the training of officers and stop ongoing problems, the Commission recommended.

The Commission has made a non-publication order about parts of the Operation Mantus investigation. There shall be no disclosure of the identities of people involved in the factual events which gave rise to the Operation Mantus investigation.  Those persons are to be referred to using the pseudonyms contained in the report. All persons who gave evidence at public examinations are referred to by name in the report.

The Commission’s Operation Mantus Report containing the pseudonyms to use can be found here and a fact sheet about the Commission’s report can be found here. A video summary of the report can be viewed here. To obtain pre-recorded interview footage and grabs of Chief Commissioner Peter Johnson SC, contact LECC Media.