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Music, Youth

The state of NSW fails to block festival strip search class action

Slater and Gordon Lawyers and Redfern Legal Centre 4 mins read

The NSW government has failed in its attempt to “declass” the representative proceeding filed in the Supreme Court of NSW on behalf of hundreds of festivalgoers who were subjected to strip searches by police between 2016 and 2022.

The state was unsuccessful in its argument that such claims should only proceed on an individual basis, with the Supreme Court ruling that a class action was the most appropriate way for group members to challenge the legality of and seek compensation for the strip searches.

The decision has been welcomed by Slater and Gordon and the Redfern Legal Centre who jointly filed the group proceeding in July last year on behalf of lead plaintiff Raya Meredith and other festivalgoers who allege the strip searches constituted unlawful acts including assault, battery and false imprisonment.

Supreme Court Justice Peter Garling ruled in reasons published this week that a class action was “in the interests of the administration of justice” and the most “effective and efficient” way to proceed. He also ordered the state pay the costs of its unsuccessful application.

The judge rejected the state’s argument that there were insufficient common issues of fact or law to warrant a group proceeding, and the state’s suggestion that it would be more efficient to permit group members to progress their claims individually in the forum of the individual’s choice.

“I am abundantly satisfied that these representative proceedings should continue because they are the most effective and efficient means of determining the issues raised by the group proceedings,” Justice Garling said.

The judge was satisfied that there are “a significant number of common questions of fact and law” addressing issues of substance.

“I have determined that the alternative to these proceedings, namely the conduct of individual cases by many, many individual possible claimants would not be in the interests of the administration of justice,” he said.

He noted that given 49 separate music festivals had been identified over the six-year claim period at which strip searches had taken place, the evidence suggested “there may be many hundreds of, if not more than a thousand, individuals who are potential group members”.

The legal setback for the state follows media disclosure that the state paid out in excess of $100m in more than 1000 civil cases relating to the conduct of the NSW Police between 2016 and 2020.

NSW Police has also faced recent criticism for charging festival organisers much higher fees for police services than other police forces.

Slater and Gordon associate Meg Lessing described Justice Garling’s decision as “a significant ruling that confirms both the importance of this particular class action, and the role of class actions generally in bringing access to justice for people who have been treated wrongfully.

“The powers that NSW police rely upon in undertaking strip searches at music festivals have been the subject of examination by the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), which released reports in 2020 detailing widespread unlawful search practices,” she said.

“Hundreds of festivalgoers have been subjected to strip searches in circumstances that, we allege, exceed the powers of NSW Police.

Often, these have occurred in egregious circumstances, including searches of minors, or young women being required to strip in the presence of male police officers, or where the search was observable by other festival attendees.

Given the widespread use by the NSW Police of strip searches, it is high time the court is asked to consider the legality and exercise of this power. We are preparing for these issues to be tested in the trial of the class action, which is expected to be scheduled in early to mid-2025 and will run for a number of weeks.”

Samantha Lee, senior police accountability solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre, said: “strip searches are invasive, harmful and have a long-lasting impact on those who have been subject to such a humiliating search.

“We know that young people are strip searched at disproportionate rates. We work with many clients who have been deeply traumatised by strip searches. These searches have become routine practice amongst NSW police.

“We hope that this class action will achieve justice for those unlawfully strip searched, and lead to legislative change to ensure strip searches only occur in circumstances of the utmost seriousness and where there is genuine urgency to necessitate the undertaking of a strip search.”


Key Facts:

The NSW government has failed in its attempt to “declass” the representative proceeding filed in the Supreme Court of NSW on behalf of hundreds of festivalgoers who were subjected to strip searches by police between 2016 and 2022.

The state was unsuccessful in its argument that claims should only proceed on an individual basis, with the Supreme Court ruling that a class action was the most appropriate way for group members to challenge the legality of, and seek compensation for, the strip searches. 

Supreme Court Justice Peter Garling ruled in reasons published this week that a class action was “in the interests of the administration of justice” and the most “effective and efficient” way to proceed. He also ordered the state pay the costs of its unsuccessful application.

The decision has been welcomed by Slater and Gordon and the Redfern Legal Centre who jointly filed the group proceeding in July last year on behalf of festivalgoers who allege the strip searches constituted unlawful acts including assault, battery and false imprisonment.


Contact details:


Slater and Gordon: andrea.petrie@slatergordon.com.au 0428 994 937

Redfern Legal Centre: communications@rlc.org.au 0493 315 023

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