Sample Research Paper on Alleged Telephone Interceptions

Royal Commission of Inquiry into Alleged Telephone Interceptions


This is a moot submission that presents the work done by Royal Commission of inquiry into alleged telephone interceptions to a parliamentary Inquiry. Telephone interception is a controversial issue that has triggered great debates based on ethics and public sector accountability. This moot submission seeks to explore detailed information on major issues affecting the public sector and the manner in which accountability should be enforced. Through the telephone interception inquiry, the submission seeks to offer vital explanation on the role of government in relation to accountability. Therefore, the submission provides insight on the importance of accountability in the public domain.

Background History

Before the formation of the Stewart’s commission, drug trafficking in Australia was increasing at an alarming rate. There were powerful drug barons such as Robert Trimbole who could influence the security systems. As a result of increased drug trafficking in the area, there were increased criminal activities that threatened economical stability of Australia. Compromise and lack of accountability from the state security services had seen increased criminal activities that had negative impact in the economy of the country (Gomery, 2006, p.791). Donald Mackay, one of the great ambitious political leaders who stood to condemn the increased social evil in his anti-marijuana campaigns disappeared mysteriously.

The William and Stewart’s Royal commission of 1981 and 1983 consequently preceded the inquiry into alleged telephone interceptions of 1985 and 1986 (Gilligan, 2002, p.303). These two commissions had created considerable focus on telecommunication interception related to drug offenses. Williams’s commission report worked after the creation of 1979 Telecommunication (Interception) Act though it was not in operation. In 1983, Stewart Commission published report on the issues of drug trafficking (Gilligan, 2002, p.297). Notable among the recommendations made by the inquiry commission was the need to extend interception powers to State police to help them counter narcotic offences and other criminal activities.

The Royal Commission of inquiry

The Royal Commission of inquiry into the alleged telephone interception was commissioned pursuant to the letters patent issued by the Governor-General as on March 9th, 1985 and the Letters patent issued from the governor of the New South Wales as on April 3rd, 1985, and a complementary letter patent  issued from the Governor of Victoria (Gilligan, 2002, p.300).  The three letter patent mentioned the appointment of Hon. Mr. Justice Donald Stewart as the Royal commissioner.

The commission by Justice Donald Stewart was expected to conduct a thorough investigation on various issues in line with information interception over the telecommunication line. The public debate leading to establishment of Stewart commission indicated that one of the key suspects in drug trafficking (Tribole) had been notified by an officer of the New South Wales police to leave the country before the establishment of Royal commission that would conduct inquiry into drug trafficking in the Clark matter (Stewart, 1986, p.5). It was alleged that the officer of New South Wales had conducted illegal interception of telephone call leading to exposure of vital information to the drug baron (Stewart, 1986, p.8). Therefore, the commission was expected to conduct various inquiry which would include: verifying whether unlawful interception was conducted by the police force of Victoria working in collaboration with members of the South Wales police force or acting in collaboration with Australian Federal police took place on or before March 28th, 1985 in New South Wales of communication passing over telecommunication system (Stewart, 1986, p.9).

In case such unlawful interception was certain, the commission was required to  find any material used in relation to that interception, being reasonable information or material that provides evidence on commission of criminal offense against the law of New South Wales, Victoria, the Commonwealth or the territory of Commonwealth which can warrant more investigation (Stewart, 1986, p.3).

Telephone interception was a controversial issue that sparked great debate in the late 1980’s in Australia (Nicholls, 2012, p.43). The period was marked with increased drug trafficking scandals that necessitated the use of telecommunication interception by the law enforcement authorities. However, law enforcement authorities materialized on the essence of conducting criminal investigation through telephone interception to conduct illegal telecommunication interception. As a result, there were heated debates in the legislation house on how telephone interception should be handled. Mixed opinions from the legislators led to amendments in the Telecommunication (Interception) Act that enabled investigative bodies and State police gain more access to telecommunication interception (Nicholls, 2012, p.45). However, certain specifications were made on the manner in which telephone interception should be conducted.

In addition, the commission had the mandate of determining the nature of the offence of any possible offense disclosed by material or information gathered. The commission was expected to identify a person who recommendable for the grant of an indemnity against criminal offense against the state law in connection with interception of communication passing over a telecommunication system (Stewart, 1986, p.5).

The importance of Royal inquiry submission cannot be overlooked in any case (Gilligan, 2002, p.290). The general aim of moot submission is not only presenting legal submission to the judges, but also offering reliable explanation on the expected results once law is applied appropriately on tackling the emergent problem. Like many other commissions that had been established before, Justice Stewart commission was established after increased public accusations and rumors. The report was crucial and necessary as it presented serious implications that can amount from low accountability in the public sector to the general public (Banks, 2014, p.11).

The need to form the commission of inquiry signifies growing alertness on the essence of building accountable public administration that serves the needs of a contemporary government and provides fundamental structure for essential rethinking and formation of administrative values and practices (Gomery, 2006, p.787). Inquiry plays a vital role in restoration of public trust and fostering accountability in the public sector (Pottage et al, 2014, p.363).

Sensitivity of Accountability

Under Australia’s constitution, telecommunication or what may be referred to as telephone tapping is exclusively governed by the Telecommunication (Interception) Act of 1979 (Nicholls, 2012, p.44). To date, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have supported inactions of legislations to empower law enforcement agencies in their respective states to intercept telecommunications as a measure of fighting criminal activities. Security agencies are only allowed to intercept telecommunications as stipulated in the constitution. However, it is difficult for a person to determine whether the extent of telecommunication interception conducted by security agency will always fall within the stipulated category and not any other. Therefore, providing powers for telecommunication interception might amount to increased illegal interception by the police service interfering with actual extent necessary for conducting criminal investigation (Nicholls, 2012, p.43).

The 1986 Stewart Commission report revealed disturbing information about the extent of illegal interceptions conducted by the NSW (New South Wales) Police service. However, the illegal interception on the other hand produced reliable and valuable criminal intelligence. The recommendation by the Stewarts commission called for expansion of telecommunication interception authority to a wide range of criminal offences to NCA and State Police service.  The report by Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) of 1983 accepted that there were situations in which the social advantage from the telecommunication interception by the police could outweigh the expense, in private terms, to the persons subjected to use of such techniques (Stewart, 2014, p.11).

According to the inquiry finding, the NSW police who were guilty of engaging in unlawful act were uncooperative to the commission of inquiry and covered their illegal activity. The inquiry, which involved obtaining first hand information from member of NSW police who were guilty of direct involvement in illegal interception, lacked sufficient information because of uncooperative response from the NSW police (Stewart, 1986, p.201). This clearly portrayed lack of accountability from the members of NSW police. It was alleged that they went ahead and destroyed equipments and materials that could have helped the commission gain strong evidence on the matter. Such extend portrays great decadence in moral obligation expected from the members of security agencies. Security agencies should portray highest level of accountability to avoid jeopardizing the security of the state (Ayling, 2011, p.156). Though majority of NSW police members claimed that their actions, which involved telecommunication interception, were based on good motives, they was lack of integrity in the manner in which they acted.

The tapping might have been conducted with a claimed genuine motive, supported by restrictive policies that were fashioned to handle telephone interception that allowed interception for national security inquiries and Custom Act drug offences (Stewart, 1986, p.165).  However, personal interest that featured when the NSW police notified a suspect portrays betrayal of public trust. Though it might not be possible to know how long the members of the New South Wales police bureau in conjunction with Australian Federal Police had employed illegal interception tactics, it was important to build counter measure strategies based on the foundation of Justice Stewart’s commission. There is great danger in conducting illegal interceptions because it might jeopardize the security systems of the country (Stewart, 1986, p.239). The impact of Illegal interceptions cannot be overlooked. As much as its effects can be felt in the security, it can also be felt in the market systems hence affecting the country’s economy negatively.

It is the responsibility of the governments to protect private information from illegal interceptions through law enforcement agencies (Ayling, 2011, p.152). However, authorities commissioned with the mandate of intercepting telecommunication on the basis of criminal investigation misuse the powers to conduct investigations which are not genuine. Such investigations are termed illegal because they lack basis upon which they are conducted. It might be difficult to curb illegal interceptions from the law enforcement agencies if they lack integrity in their service delivery (Banks, 2014, p.7). War against illegal interception can become successful if the members in the law enforcement agencies are willing to exhibit transparency and accountability within their area of service (Harfield, 2012, p.79). Also, it would be more difficult to eradicate such problem if the members within the mandated agencies do not comply with the legislations.


The formation of Stewart commission was subsequent measure by the government to counter increased impunity and lack of accountability in the public sector. The moot submission reflects vital change in social and public policy system. It is quite evident that dissatisfaction by the public members prompted genuine measure to seal accountability cracks evident in the police service.  Employee in the public sector, who plays a key role in sustaining development of a country, should be firmly embrace accountability. Law enforcement authorities have a higher mandate of ensuring law and order is maintained in the country. However, issues such as illegal interception of telecommunication by the law enforcement agencies portray serious misuse of public resource and lack of accountability.


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