On Tuesday, 4 August 2015 the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Mr Troy Grant, made a media release stating that Police will now be able to wear their guns in court. This new protocol took effect on 10 August 2015.
Prior to this protocol being introduced by the NSW Government, police were not permitted to bring their guns into a courthouse or courtroom unless they sought and gained special permission from a judicial officer.
The media release cites Australia’s heightened terrorism alert and the risk posed to police, judicial officers and the community as being the basis of the introduction of the protocol.
There are a number of reasons why the NSW Police shouldn’t be allowed to wear guns in NSW courtrooms:
- The protocol compromises the safety of all people in the courthouse and courtroom. A firearm is a dangerous weapon with the capacity to inflict serious injury or cause death. The mere presence of such a dangerous weapon increases the likelihood of it being used.
- Courthouses and courtrooms are already stressful places for defendants, witnesses and members of the public. People attend court to receive a penalty, support loved ones or are going to be cross-examined in the witness box. The presence of a dangerous weapon such as a firearm is only likely to add to the stress of being in the courtroom environment.
- The protocol compromises the safety of the police officers that are intended to be protected. As an example, if 10 members of an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang were to get into an elevator with one police officer, it would increase the likelihood of that firearm being used against the police officer. If the police officer threatened to draw their gun against the people in the elevator, that action of itself may cause serious harm to be inflicted on the police officer.
- Traditionally, the Sherriff’s Department of NSW has been charged with the security of NSW courthouses. The role of the Sherriff underpins the independence of the courts and judiciary. Members of the NSW Police often need to give evidence as witnesses in court proceedings. The police were not previously responsible for the security of the courtroom or judicial officers and therefore it could not be suggested that there was a bias towards Police. A member of the public may perceive that judicial officers are biased because the NSW Police (the witnesses in court) are responsible for courtroom safety.
- All people are meant to be equal in the eyes of the law. Police will now appear more powerful in the court room by virtue of the dangerous weapon attached to their hip.
- There are greater safety concerns at NSW court houses than an immediate threat to police officers in the court room. I.e. Magistrates and Judges are the people making adverse rulings against defendants – should they then be allowed to carry a firearm?
- The protocol makes it easier for civilians to bring firearms into courthouses. As an example, if a terrorist wanted to impersonate a police officer and walk into a court room with a loaded firearm, such an act would be easier to achieve under the new protocol. Previously no persons were permitted to bring a firearm into a court room, however, it is unlikely that the Sherriff’s Department would be able to adequately check every police officer’s identification prior to entering a courtroom.
- The protocol cites an increased risk of terrorism as part of the reason why police will now carry firearms in court. This protocol was not brought into effect after September 11, the Bali Bombings or the Lindt Cafe Siege. It is difficult to conceive how the terrorism alert could be higher now than it was on those previous occasions.
- Police being allowed to bring firearms into the court room highlights a more serious resource issue within the Attorney General’s Department. If courthouses were as safe as they are meant to be then there would be no need for the police to carry firearms in courthouses. If the Sherriff’s Department were adequately resourced there would be no perceived threat to police officers or anyone else in the courthouse.
- To the knowledge of this author, there has been no incident that has occurred in a courthouse or courtroom environment in recent times which could have been resolved by the presence of a NSW Police Officer with a firearm.
This protocol represents a lazy approach by the NSW Government to courthouse security and provides unnecessary power to the NSW Police. Rather than providing proper resources to the Sheriff's Department, the safety of all people at courthouses will be further compromised by putting dangerous weapons in high pressure environments. The protocol certainly undermines the independance of the judiciary and its capacity to manage their own courtrooms.
But perhaps most importantly, the NSW Government needs to reconsider its position on this issue before someone is harmed or killed as a result of Police carrying guns in court.