Pubdate: Tue, 10 Mar 1998 Source: The Advertiser (Australia) Author: Jeremy Pudney Contact: DRUG DOGS MUZZLED SOUTH Australian police have suspended random drug searches by sniffer dogs amid concerns they are illegal. A District Court judge has ruled that one random sniffer dog search - of luggage on an interstate bus - was unlawful. The bus, travelling from Adelaide to Sydney, was searched by SA Police sniffer dogs during a stop at a Riverland weighbridge last year. Cannabis was seized during the search, resulting in the arrest of a male passenger who is now facing trial in the District Court for possession of cannabis for sale. Late last month, Judge Allan ruled the search was illegal because police had no reasonable suspicion that the man's luggage contained drugs and had not asked his permission before the search. In his written ruling, Judge Allan says the permission of the bus driver was not enough. "I have no doubt that the bus driver was able to consent to police searching the bus, but whether he could consent to a search of the passengers' luggage is another matter," the ruling states. "Clearly, he could not." Judge Allan ruled that the dog sniffing around the closed bag constituted a search of the bag. "In my view, the search of the accused's luggage began when the dog commenced sniffing around it," his ruling says. The Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed yesterday it had sought an order from the Full Court which could see the ruling reviewed. The matter will go before the Full Court next week. It was unclear last night whether the ruling affected Customs, the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service or federal police. SA Police Assistant Commissioner (Operations Support) Jim Litster also confirmed yesterday that random sniffer dog searches had been suspended "as a result of this ruling". "Until the legal guidelines are clarified, sniffer dogs will not be used for random searches," he said. "This affects all random searches with sniffer dogs." Police will continue to conduct searches in cases where police have "reasonable suspicion" a person is carrying drugs. SA Police use sniffer dogs to randomly check interstate bus, train and sometimes air luggage. The dogs also have been used to randomly search schools and, more commonly, cars. Last August a public outcry followed the use of sniffer dogs to check cars pulled over during a random breath testing blitz on Anzac Hwy. At the time, legal experts claimed the searches were illegal. Mr Litster said random sniffer dog checks were "invaluable" in fighting drug trafficking. "Our intelligence indicates illicit drugs move through transport systems," he said.