The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found three searches conducted by Police following the 15 March Mosque attacks were unlawful.
Following the attacks, Police identified people of interest to national security and set up an operation aimed at mitigating the potential for future acts of violence. The operation resulted in the searching the individuals' home or place of work without warrant and seizing their firearms and firearms licences. The searches generated a number of complaints about Police actions. Of those investigated by the Authority, three searches were found to be unlawful.
In relation to two of those searches, Police relied on the provisions of section 18 of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. This gives Police the power to enter and search a place where they suspect an offence against the Arms Act 1983 has been committed and the person is incapable of having proper control of the firearm(s) or may kill or cause injury to someone. The Authority found in these two cases those circumstances did not exist when the searches were conducted therefore, they were unlawful.
The third case related to Police entering a house where they relied on section 14 of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. This provides the power to enter and search without warrant in circumstances where it is believed an offence is being or is about to be committed, or there is risk to life or safety that requires an emergency response. Again, the Authority found those circumstances did not exist at the time therefore the entry into the house was unlawful.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty said he recognised that Police were operating in an environment of unprecedented and heightened risk following the March 15 attacks, and there was a public expectation they take action to mitigate any further risks. "It was therefore entirely appropriate that they set up an operation to eliminate or mitigate risk of further violence and ensure public safety. However, it is evident that in relation to these three searches, they did not give sufficient consideration to their legal powers of search and seizure".
Police have acknowledged the Authority's findings in these cases and the Authority notes in two of the cases Police have formally apologised for the unlawful searches.