Court Security bill passed by Parliament

Date: Jun 21, 2013

A new bill that could change security protocols in federal courts and tribunals has passed through Parliament - with the legislation expected to make proceedings safer for family lawyers and their clients in particular.

The Court Security bill aims to give more powers to security officers on federal court premises, enabling them to carry out a range of additional measures including the deposit of dangerous items for safekeeping and the ability to request screenings.

Other powers include being able to carry out a frisk search; ask for identification including name, residential address and reason for being at the courtroom; and confiscation of recording equipment if the officer believes it will be used for illegal recordings or transmissions.

They can also force a person to leave the court premises in a number of circumstances, including perceived harassment, risks of violence, disrupting the proceedings or has committed - or is likely to commit - an offence.

External oversight for these powers will be provided by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, with other safeguards such as training and licensing requirements attached to the bill.

Attorney-general Mark Dreyfus claimed the legislation would go a long way to offering an extra layer of protection for family law cases, which he argued can get very heated.

Mr Dreyfus said family courts are among the most likely to experience security threats and problematic incidents.

"Federal court proceedings, particularly family law proceedings, are often highly charged and sometimes involve hostility and violence," he explained.

"It is essential for the federal courts to have an effective legislative framework in place to ensure their premises are safe and secure environments for people to have their disputes heard."

The attorney-general claimed high-quality security is a "critical precondition" for ensuring justice is administered fairly and effectively.

Parliamentary secretary to the attorney-general Shayne Neumann said the new bill replaces the existing framework, which is contained in Part IIA of the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971.

"As a former family lawyer I have seen first-hand how important increased security is for the court staff, legal counsel and their clients," Mr Neumann added.

Setting out all of the available security powers into a consolidated act - alongside safeguards, training and review processes - has "considerable" benefits, he said.

"The Court Security bill is an important measure and will assist the federal courts and tribunals to manage security incidents on their premises."