IPCA tells off police for entering property with 'keep out' sign to serve papers

The police watchdog has found two officers unlawfully entered a man's home to serve his then-partner family court documents.    

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) reprimanded two officers for entering the Canterbury man's home in August 2020 to serve the documents on behalf of the Court.    

On December 18, 2020, two police officers entered his home to serve court documents to his then-partner.  The officers briefly spoke to a young person at the house before leaving.    

The man later complained the 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 officers visited.   

In a ruling on Thursday, the IPCA found the officers' actions constituted civil trespass.    

It found "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".    

It also said the 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," it noted.    

"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."   

Police acknowledged the IPCA's findings with Canterbury District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill saying officers work incredibly hard to uphold the law.    

"Police acknowledge a report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), which found two Police officers trespassed on private property while attempting to serve a court order," Superintendent Hill said.    

"Police acknowledge the IPCA's report, which notes it is unclear whether the officers knew about the man's August email saying police were not to enter the property, but found their actions constituted civil trespass.   

"Police work incredibly hard to uphold the law.   

"The officers involved went onto the property in good faith and left upon being told the person they sought was not there," he said.