Top legal minds fear ‘unprecedented’ COVID-19 Omnibus bill is ‘open to abuse’
A group of 18 top legal figures have written an open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews calling for a rethink of a bill which would grant authorised officers the power to arrest people who they suspect may breach COVID-19 restrictions in the future.
The letter warns the COVID-19 Omibus bill, which passed the lower house on Friday, is “unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse”.
Michael Borsky QC, one of the lawyers who has signed the letter, said there are two serious problems with the bill.
His first concern is, if passed, it would allow detention based on a pre-emptive belief someone may break COVID-19 restrictions in the future.
“It would allow people to be detained on the basis of a belief that, in the future, they would be likely not to comply with an emergency direction. Not based on what they’ve already done or failed to do,” Mr Borsky told Neil Mitchell.
The bill would also allow any ordinary citizen to be declared an authorised officer who can detain others.
“It would expand the range of persons able to be authorised officers. Under the proposed legislation, these powers, including the powers of detention, could be exercised by ordinary citizens,” Mr Borsky said.
“Even the police don’t always get it perfectly right, but they perform that public function with the benefit of their powers and their training, and experience.
“Expanding that role to detain people, particularly just on the basis of a belief … is not the direction I think our society should head.”
On Tuesday, crossbencher Fiona Patten told Neil Mitchell she will not support the bill in its current form.
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