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Does a copper have the right to remain silent?

A Coast pensioner has been refused bail after being charged with drug trafficking.
A Coast pensioner has been refused bail after being charged with drug trafficking. Rockhampton Morning Bulletin

A TOOWOOMBA police officer is wrapped up in a landmark court case after he refused to answer questions in an interview because it could have incriminated him.

And now Queensland's highest court has to determine whether or not police officers should be allowed to claim privilege when they are interviewed for an alleged criminal offence or misconduct.

Toowoomba's Sergeant Kerry Nugent is locked in a legal battle with the police commissioner after he claimed privilege against self-incrimination when the police ethical standards command interviewed him.

Sgt Nugent, who was a communications supervisor at Toowoomba, was accused of tipping off another police officer who was being investigated for an alleged drink driving offence, the Court of Appeal heard on Wednesday.

Sgt Nugent's barrister, Peter Davis, said the right to claim privilege against self-incrimination was a fundamental right and argued it should extend to police officers.

But barrister Amanda Stoker, acting for the police commissioner, said if officers were able to claim privilege and not answer questions, it would be impossible to discipline those who committed misconduct or a criminal offence.

Mr Davis said questions were asked during police disciplinary interviews that determined whether or not a police officer had committed an offence, and this applied to Sgt Nugent's case.

"One gets to a situation where a police officer in a disciplinary interview may be asked a series of questions under compulsion ... and his answers may directly relate to his criminal responsibility," he said.

Mr Davis said those answers could then be used to further an investigation against the officer.

Ms Stoker said police officers took an oath when they entered the police force: to keep the peace and to carry out duties faithfully and according to law.

She said if police officers were able to claim privilege against self-incrimination, dishonest and corrupt officers potentially would not be held accountable for their actions.

She also said it could lead to situations where the police service would be unable to clear an officer's name or discipline them.

"It's important that these matters are able to be identified, addressed and resolved so that the community can quite rightly trust in the police service and its officers to do the duties that they have sworn to do under their oath."

The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision. - ARM NEWSDESK

Topics:  editors picks police


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