According to news reports, BWCs are popular and have been trialled in every Australian state. For example:
- In the Northern Territory a reported 40 front line officers are officially trialling the equipment, and the Northern Territory Police Association estimates that three-quarters of their force have already bought and are using personal cameras;
- In Queensland, the Palaszczuk government reportedly has committed significant funds for BWCs;
- In Victoria, Frankston police trialled 22 BWCs in 2013-2014, and Victoria Police is currently evaluating the project in anticipation of expansion.
What are their key advantages?
1. Potential reduction in violence.
There is little data on the efficacy of BWCs, but what exists is positive. The most widely cited study tracked their use by police in Rialto, California. There, Cambridge researchers found that the use of BWCs decreased incidents of the use of force by 59% and complaints against police by 87%.
Although limited, the study suggests that people are less willing to resort to violence and that police behaviour improves when both parties know they are being recorded, and it also appears to deter members of the public from bringing spurious complaints.
2. Use as an evidentiary tool.
For investigating and prosecuting agencies, the BWC is no doubt appealing as an evidentiary tool. Clear, verifiable footage captured by BWCs could reduce hours in court examining and verifying the veracity of oral accounts. This in turn would reduce the public resources spent on each trial and enable courts to hear more cases in less time.
However, investigating agencies using or considering using BWC footage as evidence will need to take into account a range of factors including:
- Admissibility requirements. The admissibility of footage captured by body worn cameras will generally be governed by the principles which apply to the admissibility of evidence in general. In Victoria these principles are set out in the Evidence Act 2008, which generally provides that evidence is admissible if it is relevant to the issues in dispute between the parties and either is not hearsay or, if hearsay, falls within an exception to the hearsay rule. However, depending on the jurisdiction in which the dispute is brought, other provisions may be applicable: see for example s 98(1)(b) of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998.
- Pre-trial disclosure requirements. Agencies will need to be equipped to hand over relevant footage, or at least have facilities for defence lawyers to view the footage in a secure setting. Whether interested parties, including the media, can access footage when no prosecution is on foot will be another matter for determination.
Other legal considerations
The law also restricts publication of personal and sensitive information including details of sexual assault, family violence victims and children involved in court proceedings, and information that could prejudice the fairness of any pending or in progress trials. Agencies will need to be especially careful to identify and appropriately deal with personal information of third parties that is captured in background events and peripheral conversations.
For further information on these issues please contact members of our Policing Practice Group or Technology and Data Protection Practice Group:
Managing Principal Solicitor
t 9247 6798
t 9247 6425
t 8684 0483