This paper revisits the Wood Royal Commission report, examines the current system of police accountability in NSW, and discusses the many reviews of the system that have taken place over the past decade.
The importance of having a system of external oversight of police conduct was highlighted by the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service in the mid-1990s. The external oversight model that has been in place in NSW since that time has involved two key agencies: the NSW Ombudsman, which primarily oversees the way in which NSW Police deals with complaints, and the Police Integrity Commission, which investigates serious police misconduct as well as overseeing the way in which other agencies investigate such misconduct.
In recent times, the effectiveness of this system has been called into question. In February 2015, a Legislative Council Select Committee report referred to “dysfunction” within the system and recommended that a further committee inquiry be held on reforming the system, “with a view to establishing a single, well-resourced police oversight body”. The NSW Government has since appointed former Shadow Attorney-General, Andrew Tink, to review the police oversight system, including examining options for a single civilian oversight model. The terms of reference for the review were released on 21 May and Mr Tink has been asked to report by 31 August 2015.
This paper revisits the Wood Royal Commission report, examines the current system in NSW, and discusses the many reviews of the system that have taken place over the past decade. It also outlines the police oversight models in other Australian jurisdictions and in the United Kingdom. In summary:
- The Commonwealth has a very similar model to NSW. South Australia also has a multi-agency model but it comprises a Police Ombudsman and the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (this system is also currently under review).
- Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have a single agency model, in the form of a general anti-corruption commission.
- In England and Wales, there is a single agency, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was set up in 2004 and investigates serious complaints and critical incidents. Reports have expressed concern at the IPCC’s lack of resources and the effectiveness of the complaints system, and this has led to reform proposals.
- Northern Ireland also has a single agency, the Police Ombudsman, which was established in 2000 and investigates serious complaints and critical incidents.