Brisbane, Australia (PressExposure) June 23, 2011 -- A State Government review of police powers must include a radical overhaul of police evidence gathering systems, according to Brisbane criminal defence lawyer Tim Meehan.
He said a call for police to formally record every major arrest from the moment they made contact with a suspect, was one of the crucial measures needed, as a safeguard for both police and an accused person.
A five yearly review of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act is underway and Mr Meehan said it was time to establish a formal policy covering police recording systems.
Mr Meehan, Managing Partner of Queensland's largest specialist criminal defence law firm, Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers, said it was crucial the review consider the specialist input of criminal defence lawyers.
"At the moment there is no legislative compulsion for police to tape all of their interactions with suspects outside of formal records of interview and some times the tapes are not rolling when admissions are allegedly made. This can only complicate a case if it goes to trial. A recording of every step of police discussions with a suspect is a safeguard for police and also for the accused," he said.
However Mr Meehan said any system of recording interviews must include rigid safeguards to preserve the chain of evidence, in particular against fears of recordings being tampered with or selectively edited.
"Tampering with audio is not that difficult with digital technology so police need to be very clear in showing their evidence is untainted, otherwise it could lead to alleged admissions being challenged in court which would complicate and in some cases only prolong trials. "It's in the police's own interests to prove their evidence gathering systems are beyond question," he said.
Mr Meehan said criminal defence lawyers [http://www.ryanbosscher.com.au] were aware of a growing number of challenges to the validity of police recorded interviews.
"There are stories of people vehemently denying on tape that they have committed an offence, then later police claim the person admitted the crime when in a police car but there is no taped record of the alleged admission.
"There are also cases of tapes that go missing or records that are taped over. It's a mish mash in need of a formal system. Our justice system is not about who police think should be guilty, but whether the facts prove that guilt," Mr Meehan said.
He endorsed calls for mandatory recording of police contact with suspects from the first moment of contact and said the recording policy should go further. At present police were only required to formally record discussions with people facing indictable offences.
"The recording requirement should cover any and all offences. This would correct the current problem where police can talk to a person about some offences but not formally caution them, and then later charge them.
"Compulsory recording of all discussions with a suspect would be a safeguard for everyone," Mr Meehan said.