Court rules strip-searches of Russell Street bomber were ‘inherently demeaning’

Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue has had a significant victory in the Supreme Court of Victoria that could prompt an overhaul of strip-search powers in the state’s prisons, after some searches of him were ruled unlawful and in breach of the Charter of Human Rights.

Justice Melinda Richards found human rights considerations had not been taken into account when guards at Barwon Prison strip-searched Minogue before random drug and alcohol tests in September 2019 and February 2020.

Craig Minogue is serving a life sentence for the 1986 bombing of the Russell Street police headquarters.

The testing process at the high-security prison was “inherently demeaning” according to Justice Richards, who also found the practice was incompatible with Minogue’s rights to privacy and humane treatment while in custody.

“In my view, this evidence fell short of establishing reasonable grounds for a belief that it is necessary for the security or good order of the prison to strip search every prisoner selected for random urine testing,” Justice Richards said in her findings.

In a submission to the court, Minogue said he was “sick to death” of the indignity of being forced to strip naked, after submitting to about 70 searches over the past 32 years, but never returning a positive result to alcohol or drugs.

Minogue is serving a life sentence in Barwon prison for his role in the bombing of the Russell Street police headquarters in 1986, which killed Constable Angela Taylor and injured 22 other people.

A police officer on the street in the immediate aftermath of the explosion outside of the Russell Steet Police Station in March 1986. Credit:The Age

While awaiting sentence in 1988, Minogue, then 26, bludgeoned fellow inmate and convicted murderer Alex Tskamakis to death with a pillow case loaded with gym weights.

Justice Richards did find, however, there are reasonable grounds to conduct strip searches of prisoners before contact visits in a maximum-security facility such as Barwon.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice and Community Safety confirmed it was considering a response to the ruling.

“Corrections Victoria is currently reviewing her honour’s findings and considering the actions that need to be taken to address the court’s judgment,” the spokeswoman said.

Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue pictured in 1986.

Jeremy King, the Victorian president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said the decision potentially has wider implications for strip-searches conducted in prisons and by police.

“It’s giving power to that argument if there’s a way of not infringing someone’s human rights, then you should take that path,” Mr King said.

“I appreciate that he [Minogue] is not a great character, but it is still pleasing to see the courts give real teeth to the charter of human rights and ensuring that prisoners, who are still human beings, are treated with dignity and respect.”

Mr King said strip searching was an invasive technique used by prisons and police, and it should be used in specific circumstances.

“If there’s a better way of doing something that’s not as invasive as a strip search, then they should be doing it,” he said.

The Police Association, the Victorian Victims of Crime Commissioner and the union representing prison guards, the Community and Public Sector Union, were contacted for comment.

Minogue, who entered the prison system illiterate, obtained a PhD in applied ethics, and human and social sciences from La Trobe University and has launched a series of court appeals against legislative amendments made by the Victorian government to keep him behind bars.

In 2018, he wanted to renounce his Australian citizenship and asked then home affairs minister Peter Dutton to deport him to Britain, but his appeal to the High Court was unsuccessful.

At the time, Premier Daniel Andrews insisted that Minogue “will die in jail, that’s where he should die”.

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