The NSW District Court recently awarded a Sydney man $3,201 for
false imprisonment after he was detained by police for four minutes
at a Sydney train station.
Police detain disability pensioner on suspicion of stolen
transport and concession cards
Two police officers approached the 24-year-old man and asked him
to produce his Opal transport card, his pensioner concession card
and photo identification.
The officers told the court that the man was "evasive"
when asked to hand over his Opal card. Also, when the man produced
a concession Opal card and a Commonwealth concession disability
support pension card, the police suspected that they were stolen,
as the man using them appeared "young and fit".
Disability pensioner films confrontation and sues the
The man turned on the video in his phone and filmed one officer
calling him a "smart arse" and asking him if he had a
problem listening. Police told him that he wasn't under arrest,
but he couldn't leave until they had verified his identity, and
asked to see his driver's licence.
The man argued that he did not have to produce a driver's
licence as he wasn't driving. Police conducted a radio check on
the man, and after four minutes told him he was free to go. In that
time the man had missed a train.
The man, who was on a disability pension, sued the state and
won. (See Le v State of New South Wales  NSWDC 38.) The
judge said that detaining the man for four minutes amounted to
false imprisonment, even though he wasn't physically
Court rules in favour of detained man
The case hinged on two key questions – first, were the
police entitled to demand photo ID? And secondly, did the police
honestly suspect, on reasonable grounds, that the man could assist
them to investigate the possible theft of his concession card?
The judge ruled that the answer to both of these questions was
"no", determining that while the police might have had an
"honest suspicion" that the concession card could have
been stolen, this "was based on flimsy material or formed in a
process of reasoning which relied on tenuous connections",
rather than reasonable grounds.
For instance, under section 11, there must be reasonable grounds
to suspect that the person from whom ID is sought may be able to
assist in the investigation of an indictable offence which is
alleged to have occurred nearby.
Section 12 makes it an offence to fail or refuse to provide ID
when sought, under section 11. The offence carries a maximum
penalty of $220.
Additional police powers related to public transport
Police have other specific powers when they are working in the
area of public transport. Those powers – along with your
rights and obligations as a passenger – are set out in the Passenger Transport Regulation 2007.
Under this regulation, police can require passengers on public
transport to produce their Opal and concession cards. The judge
determined that where a passenger has complied with that request,
the regulation does not allow police to make an additional demand
for photo identification.
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