Queensland’s crime and corruption commission technically broke the law around warrant conditions for a surveillance device of which investigators had “a limited understanding”.
The breach, which occurred last year when a hidden device was removed early but the public interest monitor (PIM) told two months late, was revealed in an audit tabled in state parliament on Wednesday.
Lawyers said while the breach was technical in nature, it meant evidence was possibly gathered illegally and raised questions about oversight of intrusive surveillance by the state’s most powerful investigative body.
The acting CCC chair, Ken Levy, who was notified of the breach by the parliamentary commissioner in December, replied that inquiries revealed “a limited understanding of the existence and effect of the warrant condition on the part of the members of the investigation team”.
The detective who applied for the warrant “was not specifically aware of the wording of the condition” that if surveillance was ended early, a compliance affidavit must be sent to the PIM sooner.
A lawyer assigned to the investigation who also “did not turn her mind to the wording of the condition … cited her inexperience in relation to surveillance device warrants and the management of associated compliance issues”, Levy said.
The lawyer was directed to seek advice from the PIM on appropriate action “which may include referring the matter to the supreme court justice who issued the warrant”.
Solicitor Bill Potts said it was “a bit coy” of the CCC to point to “limited understanding” on the part of the officers involved.
“I mean these people deal with these things all the time, are extraordinarily professional, and I’d have grave concerns as to the oversight and the management of those teams if that in fact occurs,” he said.
“That kind of thing may be technical in nature but it seems to underlie poor management and poor understanding, or perhaps something more sinister.”
The legal effect of the breach might be to make any evidence obtained illegal, “the fruit of a poisoned tree, so it may well find itself inadmissible [in court],” Potts said.
“As a public we have created a super secret police force in the CCC and there are good reasons for it historically,” he said.
“But it’s one of the reasons why it has its own watchdog committee and why lawyers and the public are always alert to ensure it’s powers are utilised only for purposes set out in the legislation and only if done lawfully.
“The [CCC] can force people to answer questions in secret hearings subject to draconian rules of contempt. They can jail people fairly readily without the public necessarily knowing about it. They widely have powers to intercept phone calls and insert bugs into houses.
“Where those powers exist we have to ensure we are watching the watchers.
“They closely monitor these things [surveillance devices] because they are intrusive. The whole idea is the supreme court only grants the issue of these types of intrusive warrants if there’s good reason for it.”
Comment has been sought from the CCC.
“Queensland corruption commission breaches warrant for surveillance device” Story by: Joshua Robertson The Guardian – 10th May 2015