Most people assume that, like on television, a search warrant needs to be issued by a judge or magistrate. Some of them do. However, in South Australia, the Commissioner of Police can (and does) issue police officers with a document called a “general search warrant” pursuant to the provisions of the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA). This unimpressive document – recently described by one of our clients as “some [expletive] bus ticket that I could have typed up on the computer myself” – allows a police officer, at any time of the day or night, to “enter into, break open and search any house, building, premises or place” where he or she suspects:
(a) An offence has been or is about to be committed;
(b) There may be stolen goods;
(c) There may be evidence; or
(d) There may be something intended to be used to commit an offence.
The warrant does not refer to any particular suspect, or any particular premises. It is a generic document that is carried around by the police officer and which can be used over and over again on as many properties as the police officer has time to search. It remains in force for six months, at which time a new one in identical terms is issued by the Commissioner of Police. There is no judicial oversight at all. If a police officer forms the relevant suspicion, they can come and search your house.
Some may find that comforting – others scary.
Call Dewar Legal on (08) 8311 3964 for advice and representation in all criminal and traffic law matters.