Police Seizure Abuse - The Loose Cannon
Although I once defied the odds and got nought out of thirty in an open book multiple choice Chemistry test, leading to me studying law and not an agricultural science, Newton’s third law ‘for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction’, has always appealed to me, because at least on one level it applies to human and organisational behaviour and not just objects.
Thus when Police are affected by something they react.
Most readers would be familiar with the Edwards tragedy last year. Mr Edwards was granted a special Commissioner's Permit for a handgun, against the wishes of a gun club he had previously approached, and then he went oput and commited a murder suicide soon after. Further compounding the tragedy, his distraught former spouse committed suicide earlier this year.
Police did not blame themselves for granting the permit, and are now targeting anyone who shoots and who is involved in a Family Law break up.
Case in point, I am acting for a small dealer at present who is in the process of going through a break up with his spouse. The parties are separated under the one roof.
On my instructions his former partner was somewhat jealous because he was having a discussion and was actively engaged in play with his son. His wife’s mother suggested she call Police, which she proceeded to do.
Police attended, and as no threat was made, and there was no apprehension of violence, no AVO was issued.
Nevertheless, my client’s licence was suspended. The reason on the suspension was ‘child at risk’- yet there was on these facts no evidence of this. The only thing that happened that night that would have been scary to a child was the arrival of two Police Officers after the child’s bed time - although I stress that in this particular situation the officers behaved commendably well, and only followed instructions.
Not every child in a break up is a child at risk, and if Police wanted to target children at risk their attention would be better spent visiting shopping centres and rounding up truanting children during the day, and getting tired drivers off the road.
As you may be aware, Police policy of seizure, for a ‘cooling off period’ of 28 days, does not appear to have any statutory basis and any seizure of firearms needs to comply with Firearms Act 1996 or the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002.
The Police power to suspend a Firearms licence is set out in paragraph 22 of the Firearms Act 1996, and I have set it out below.
22 Suspension of licence
(cf APMC 6, 1989 Act s 35)
(1) The Commissioner may, if the Commissioner is satisfied there may be grounds for revoking a licence, suspend the licence by serving personally or by post on the licensee a notice:
(a) stating that the licence is suspended and the reasons for suspending it, and
(b) requesting that the person provide the Commissioner with reasons why the licence should not be revoked.
(1A) If a licence is being suspended because the Commissioner is satisfied that there may be grounds for revoking the licence under section 11 (5A), the notice suspending the licence is not required:
(a) to state the reasons for the suspension, or
(b) to include any request that the licensee provide the Commissioner with reasons why the licence should not be revoked.
(2) The Commissioner must suspend a licence in accordance with this section if the Commissioner is aware that the licensee has been charged with a domestic violence offence within the meaning of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 or the Commissioner has reasonable cause to believe that the licensee has committed or has threatened to commit a domestic violence offence within the meaning of that Act.
(3) A suspended licence does not authorise the possession or use of firearms during the period specified in the notice suspending it.
Whilst not relevant, I shall set out section 11(5) below for your convenience
11(5) A licence must not be issued to a person who:
(a) is under the age of 18, or
(b) has, within the period of 10 years before the application for the licence was made, been convicted in New South Wales or elsewhere of an offence prescribed by the regulations, whether or not the offence is an offence under New South Wales law, or
(c) is subject to an apprehended violence order or interim apprehended violence order or who has, at any time within 10 years before the application for the licence was made, been subject to an apprehended violence order (other than an order that has been revoked), or
(d) is subject to a good behaviour bond, whether entered into in New South Wales or elsewhere, in relation to an offence prescribed by the regulations, or
(e) is subject to a firearms prohibition order, or
(f) is a registrable person or corresponding registrable person under the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000.
Turning to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 which again relevantly provides:
20 Relevant offences
The following offences are relevant offences for the purposes of this Division:
(a) indictable offences,
(b) an offence against section 93FB of the Crimes Act 1900,
(d) an offence against a provision of Part 2 of the Explosives Act 2003.
21 Power to search persons and seize and detain things without warrant
(1) A police officer may, without a warrant, stop, search and detain a person, and anything in the possession of or under the control of the person, if the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that any of the following circumstances exists:
(a) the person has in his or her possession or under his or her control anything stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained,
(b) the person has in his or her possession or under his or her control anything used or intended to be used in or in connection with the commission of a relevant offence,
(c) the person has in his or her possession or under his or her control in a public place a dangerous article that is being or was used in or in connection with the commission of a relevant offence,
(d) the person has in his or her possession or under his or her control, in contravention of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985, a prohibited plant or a prohibited drug.
(2) A police officer may seize and detain:
(a) all or part of a thing that the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds is stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained, and
(b) all or part of a thing that the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds may provide evidence of the commission of a relevant offence, and
(c) any dangerous article, and
(d) any prohibited plant or prohibited drug in the possession or under the control of a person in contravention of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985,
found as a result of a search under this section.
22 Power to seize and detain dangerous articles on premises
(cf Crimes Act 1900, s 357)
A police officer who is lawfully on any premises may seize and detain any dangerous article that the police officer finds on the premises, if the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the dangerous article is being or was used in or in connection with the commission of a relevant offence.
Premises include vessels, vehicles, aircraft and other places.
The difficulty for Police here is that while a firearm is a dangerous article within the meaning of s21(2)(c) there is no relevant offence, nor is there any suspicion on reasonable grounds that the article is or was used in commission of an offence (s22).
After realising that they were on shakey grounds a Sergeant rang my client, alluded to gaol, and referenced the following alleged offences, none of which are supported by available evidence.
- That my client was in possession of 14 unregistered firearms. This allegation was denied. My client had completed all PAB28 and 31 paperwork as required by legislation as required and had forwarded these to the Registry by Registered Post. My client also completed his quarterly return with respect to these entries and forwarded the quarterly return to the Registry by Registered Post. Apparently, Police wish to hold my client responsible for processing tardiness at their Registry.
That my client was in possession of a number of prohibited firearms specifically firearms fitted with a folding stock. Allegation admitted. My client is authorised by virtue of his dealer licence to possess prohibited firearms no 11 of Sch 1 of the Firearms Act 1996, item 11 are any firearms fitted with a folding stock.
- That my client was informed he would be asked why one firearm had a defaced serial number. Upon entering details of all firearms acquired by my client the physical serial number of the firearm was sighted at all times when making these entries. My client can answer no explanation why one has a defaced serial number he questions if part of a serial number may be partially obscured by a stock. I requested further particulars.
- The Sergeant informed my client that his decision to suspend my client in the morning of 9 May 2019 was supported by an allegation involving matrimonial property. On the 8 May 2019 attending Police referred to this as a civil matter, and it was not raised as a complaint until the afternoon of the 9 May 2019. For this reason, this allegation was not raised on the Suspension Notice and had no bearing upon the decision to suspend.
My criticism is with a Police Policy in practice in respect to domestic situations that exceeds the law, and that involves the seizure of firearms without probable cause merely on suspicion of a domestic break up.
Just because Firearms ownership is a privilege and not a right, does not mean that privilege is subject to unfettered discretion by Police to seize firearms or suspend licences without appropriate due process.
When I first came to Australia, I was amazed how far this country has progressed since it was a penal colony, a mere couple of hundred years ago. However the longer I practice law, the more convinced I am that my assumption is wrong, for certainly in terms of Police attitude, this state is still a Penal Colony.
National Firearms Lawyer
P: (02) 6299 9690
M: 0427 280 962
Simon Munslow is a lawyer who has a lifelong interest in shooting, having acquired his first firearm at the age of nine, and has had an active interest in firearms law since writing a thesis on the topic over thirty years ago at University.
Simon Munslow practices extensively in Firearms Law matters throughout Australia.
He is a regular contributor to the Australian Sporting Shooter magazine’s website on Firearms law matters, has published articles on firearms reviews and firearms law, and occasionally is asked to comment in the broader media on firearms matters.
This article is written for general information only and does not constitute advice.
He can assist you with:
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