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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2707


Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (09:20): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Federal courts and tribunals, due to their very nature as forums to resolve disputes, bring together people who are in serious conflict. Proceedings are often emotionally charged and can involve actual or threatened violence.

It is essential that federal courts and tribunals are properly supported in their efforts to prevent, as far as possible, security incidents arising on their premises and to respond quickly and appropriately to control incidents when they do arise.

Court users, particularly those involved in cases in the family and federal magistrates courts, have the fundamental right to access facilities and have their cases heard without the threat of violence and intimidation.

Current court security arrangements

Security at most federal court and tribunal premises is provided by contracted security guards, and this has been the case for many years.

The current legislative framework for security at federal court and tribunal premises is part IIA of the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971. However, this legislation is out of date, in that it assumes the presence of police officers on court premises. It also does not contain an appropriate range of powers—and safeguards on the exercise of these powers—sufficient to meet the security needs of the modern court environment.

Security officers are uncertain of their powers to confiscate materials or temporarily detain violent people.

Legislative fra mework established by this bill

This bill contains a comprehensive framework to enable the federal courts and tribunals to manage the wide range of security issues they face in different locations across Australia.

It allows courts to appoint persons as security officers and authorised court officers and clearly sets out the powers that these officers are able to exercise.

The powers build on those currently contained in the public order act and those available to the courts under the common law as occupiers of premises.

The powers include screening and search powers, powers to give certain directions, and a limited range of powers supported by the use of necessary and reasonable force.

Only appropriately trained and licensed security officers will be able to use force in exercising powers under the bill, and these officers will only be able to use force in clearly defined circumstances.

Recognising that security officers may not be present at all court locations, in particular when the courts are in regional circuit locations, the bill allows authorised court officers to exercise a limited range of basic security powers.

The bill creates a number of offences relating to court security and provides for the administrative heads of the federal courts to seek protection orders on behalf of judicial officers and court staff or in the interests of court security.

The bill contains important safeguards around the exercise of powers. These safeguards include licensing and training requirements for appointed officers, identification requirements, complaints mechanisms, and oversight by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

The measures under the bill balance a person's right to enter and remain upon court premises with the right of other court users, judicial officers, court staff and members of the public to a safe and secure court environment.

The bill has been developed in close consultation with the federal courts and tribunals. It responds to concerns raised by the heads of jurisdiction of the federal courts that the public order act does not meet the security needs of the modern court environment.

The bill is tailored to ensure that the courts can reduce, as far as possible, the risk of security incidents arising on their premises, and to appropriately respond to incidents that do arise.

Police presence for court security

It is expected that courts will continue to call for police assistance to deal with serious security incidents.

However, events at court premises can escalate with little warning. It is, therefore, vital that there is an effective legislative framework in place to ensure that courts are able to take preventative security measures such as screening, and, where a security incident has arisen, to enable the courts to continue to operate in a safe and secure manner before police arrive.

The bill has been carefully drafted so as to be flexible to a range of different guarding arrangements. This is appropriate given the different security needs of different courts and tribunals.

Conclusion

Effective court security arrangements are a critical precondition for the effective administration of justice.

This bill will modernise the legal framework for federal court and tribunal security arrangements and thereby ensure that our courts and tribunals are safe and secure places for the public to have their disputes heard.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.