What is the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Watchdog?

Key Takeaways

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission is a watchdog also known for short as ‘ACIC’ which is Australia’s criminal intelligence agency that focuses on minimising and investigating serious crime including organised crime. It has a main focus on cybercrime, firearms, national security, drugs, and financial crime. It’s powers extend to summoning a person to attend to give evidence and/or produce documents and information at an examination hearing. Answers during at an ACIC examination hearing can result in self-incrimination unless the witness advises the examiner that the answer may lead to self-incrimination.

What is the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC)?

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (‘ACIC’) is a national criminal intelligence agency which focuses on reducing and investigating serious and organised crime impacting Australia.  This is different to the NSW Crime Commission watchdog.

The ACIC, formerly referred to as the Australian Crime Commission, is governed by the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 (Cth).

The Commission primarily focuses on investigating:

  • Cybercrime,
  • Financial crime,
  • Firearms,
  • Organised crime gangs,
  • Illicit drugs,
  • National security.

Other criminal threats to Australia that the Commission identifies as priority areas include visa and migration fraud, the organised sexual exploitation of children, the illicit tobacco market, the emerging criminal encrypted communications market, and sports integrity risks (i.e., links between betting and organised crime).

The functions of the ACIC include:

  • Conducting investigations and intelligence operations into federally relevant criminal activity,
  • Collecting, correlating, analysing, and disseminating criminal intelligence and information,
  • Maintaining a national criminal intelligence database,
  • Developing strategic criminal intelligence assessments,
  • Providing advice on national criminal intelligence priorities, and
  • Providing nationally coordinated criminal history checks.

In 2021 – 22, intelligence gathered by the Commission contributed to 46 disruptions of criminal entities, as well as $24.3 million in cash and assets and $1.4 billion worth of drugs and precursors being seized.

The Commission also reported that 15,322 information and intelligence products were disseminated among 214 partners, which include agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, State and Territory Police, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The ACIC is also able to collaborate with international partners, in addressing transnational issues.

What happens if the ACIC summons me?

The ACIC is provided with numerous powers under the Act that are utilised in its investigations and intelligence operations.

An examination or ‘hearing’ may occur before or after a charge being laid by law enforcement, or before or after a confiscation application.

Examinations are held in private, with the examiner able to determine who can be present.

Section 28 provides that an examiner may summon a witness to give evidence, and/or produce any documents or other things referred to in the summons, if they are satisfied that it is reasonable in all the circumstances.

Once a summon is received, the witness will be required to attend the examination.

They will also be required to answer all questions posed and produce any document or other things referred to in the summons.

In NSW, there is generally a right to silence permitting accused persons to refuse to conduct a formal interview with police, answer their questions, provide a statement, information, or give evidence at court.

However, this is not relevant to ACIC proceedings, meaning you will be required to answer questions truthfully, even if this may lead to self-incrimination.

Notably, a person may advise the examiner that the answer to a question or production of the document or thing might incriminate them or make them liable to a penalty, prior to doing so.

In this case, the answer, document, or thing is not admissible in evidence against the person in a criminal proceeding, confiscation proceeding or any other proceeding for the imposition of a penalty.

This is known as ‘direct-use’ immunity.


Penalties for Failing to Attend or Answer Questions at ACIC Summons Hearing

If you fail to attend, answer a question, or produce documents or other things at an examination, a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and/or a $55,000 fine ($275 penalty unit x 200) is applicable in the District Court.

However, if the prosecution and defence consent, the matter may be dealt with summarily.

In this case, the Local Court is limited to imposing one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500.

The same maximum penalties are applicable where a witness provides evidence that they know is false or misleading.

About Poppy Morandin

Poppy Morandin is the managing law clerk and an integral part of the team of criminal lawyers at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia . She's also a part of CDLA's content article production team. Poppy is passionate about law reform and criminal justice.

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