Queensland ‘star-chamber’ powers curtail the right to silence

In Queensland, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) is using its far-reaching ‘star-chamber’ powers to curtail the right to silence.

The CMC has the power, under Queensland law, to punish silent or uncooperative witnesses with jail, in direct contravention of the right of a witness to their silence.

These coercive powers were introduced in 1997 to battle serious organised crime and pedophilia rings. However, CMC Assistant Crime Commissioner Michael Scott states that the laws empower the CMC to “break the wall of silence” around other major crimes.

Civil libertarian Terry O’Gorman has attacked the increasing use of this power by the CMC, which has already used it more times this financial year than in its entire 11-year existence.

The hearings, according to O’Gorman, were being:

…used as a back door to get around the law of the right to silence.

I’m aware of CMC hearings being conducted into glassings. Glassings are not minor but they’re hardly organised crime.

Defence lawyers have also attacked the secretive hearings and broad powers of the CMC. According to barrister Greg McGuire, while hearings should be used:

 …very sparingly and only for very serious matters, it tends to be police officers getting nowhere, so we’ll just go to the CMC.

The power of the CMC to simply ignore a witness’ right to silence sidesteps this fundamental right in our justice system, and should be revoked altogether.

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