The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police unlawfully entered a man’s private property to serve Family Court documents on the Court’s behalf.
On 18 December 2020, two Police officers entered the property to serve the documents on the man’s then partner. The man and his partner were not home, but Police spoke briefly to a young person at the property before leaving.
The man complained that Police could not enter his property because he had revoked the implied licence enabling any person, including Police officers, to enter private property to communicate with an occupier.
The occupier can terminate or limit the implied licence to enter and remain on private property, through direct communication or unambiguous signage. The man said he had notified the Canterbury District Commander that Police were not to enter his property in August 2020. He also posted signage on his house saying: “Keep Out – Private Property.” This sign was visible on the day the two officers visited.
The Authority found that the service of originating proceedings and a Judge’s minute notifying of an upcoming conference is not the execution of a court process pursuant to a court order. Also, the Police officers cannot, in our view, be regarded as court officers for this purpose. An application for substituted service ought to have been made if the documents needed to be served urgently.
We also found that the prominent and unequivocal signage revoked the implied licence, and the two officers’ actions constituted a civil trespass. The effect of the notification to the District Commander was less certain, as it is unclear whether the officers knew about it.
Further, Police could not rely on the common law defence available to court officers executing a court process pursuant to a court order.