Laws surrounding body-worn police cameras in Victoria need urgent revision so that access to video footage cannot be denied in civil proceedings, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
“Body-worn police camera footage will often contain critical evidence that is needed in civil litigation matters to allow the courts to make decisions and determine damages,” said Mr Jeremy King, Victorian State President, ALA.
“The law in Victoria needs urgent revision to allow for the disclosure of body-worn camera footage in civil matters. This will impact a wide range of civil cases from traffic accident claims to issues of police behaviour and other abuses of power.
“Currently there are no specific provisions in the Surveillance Devices Act for the footage to be handed over in civil proceedings. If the courts are able to access this video evidence it will lead to better and fairer legal outcomes.”
Body-worn police cameras were introduced by the Victorian government in 2017, however according to the ALA the laws dealing with their use and the storage and disclosure of the footage they capture remain difficult to negotiate and unclear.
“Recent events show that there needs to be far greater accountability for police in their interactions with members of the community, particularly with vulnerable people, and body-worn cameras do have the potential to increase the scrutiny of police behaviour,” said Mr King. “However, the fact that police officers cannot be compelled to release footage from body-worn cameras in civil proceedings completely undermines this potential benefit.
“The community is supposed to have faith that police will be held to account by objective video evidence that monitors their ever-increasing interactions with the public. Yet, at the same time, the government has given that organisation almost absolute control over the footage.”