Police powers and my rights

If you are under 25, you can contact us for free and confidential legal advice about this topic here. 

You have rights when dealing with the police, and there are laws that say how police can use their powers. It is a good idea to find out why the police want to talk to you before you answer their questions and to always stay polite and respectful, even if you think you are being treated unfairly.  

If you want to find out more about the laws around police arrests, check out our webpage here. 

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I have come into contact with the police. What should I do?

The police can approach and talk to you at any time. If you come into contact with the police, it’s a good idea to make sure you stay calm and respectful. We know dealing with police can be intimidating or scary, especially if you have had a bad experience in the past. But being aggressive or violent with police will probably make things worse, even if you have done nothing wrong. You can get into trouble just for behaving badly with police (for example by swearing or trying to escape an arrest).

If you feel like the police are treating you unfairly, it’s usually best to go along with it, and then get legal help. It is a good idea to take notes of what’s happened on your phone as soon as you can, and if you feel unsafe, ask police if you can contact an adult you trust.  

Do I have to tell the police my details?

In some situations you must give personal details (like your name and address and show your ID) when asked to by police. For example if: 

  • the police have reason to think you’ve broken, or are breaking, the law;  
  • police think you are under 18 and smoking a cigarette;
  • you’re driving a car or riding a motorbike;  
  • you’ve been, or you are about to be, involved in domestic violence;
  • police think you can help with the investigation of a crime, domestic violence or a motor vehicle accident.

In general, if you are unsure, it is a good idea to give the police your name and address and show them your ID when asked. If you are legally required to give police your personal details, it is an offence to refuse to do so. It is also against the law to give the police a fake name or address. 

If you think the police don’t have a good reason to ask for your details, you can politely ask police why they need your personal details. You can also ask for their name, rank, and place of duty. The police, by law, have to tell you this information. It’s a good idea to write this down so you don’t forget.  

Questions and interviews

It is important to remember that you have a right to silence when talking to the police. This means that apart from giving your personal details in some situations, in general you do not have to answer their questions, even if you have been arrested and taken to a police station.

If police ask you to go to an interview, we recommend you speak to a lawyer before you decide how you will respond. You generally can’t be forced to go to a police interview unless you are under arrest or detained for questioning, and police should make this clear. If the police ask you to go to the station with them, it’s a good idea to ask if you’re under arrest. If you aren’t, you don’t have to go.   

It’s really important to remember that anything you say to police in an interview could be used in evidence against you. 

Can the police tell me to move on?

Sometimes the police can ask you to leave a place. This is called being told to ‘move on’.  You can be told to move on from a place by the police if they have a reason to think you are: 

  • causing anxiety to someone entering or leaving a place;
  • blocking people from entering or leaving a shop or building;
  • threatening and being offensive to people entering or leaving a place; or 
  • disrupting an event or gathering.

Whenever the police tell you to move on, they have to tell you their reasons for doing so. It is an offence not to follow a direction to move on given by police. There are special rules about what the police can do during a protest. 

Can police search me?

Police do not have an automatic right to search you and your property. 

In most cases, police need a warrant (which is a written order from a judge) before they can enter an area and search you, your car or your house. However, the police can search you without a warrant in some situations, for example if you consent, if you are under arrest, or if police think you have:   

  • a weapon, knife or other dangerous item; 
  • illegal dangerous drugs;
  • stolen property;
  • something that is evidence for certain serious crimes;
  • something that you’ll use to hurt yourself or others.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to consent to a search. If you don’t consent, police will need another legal reason to search you. 

Not cooperating with police (for example by trying to stop them doing a search) can be an offence. For this reason, it’s a good idea to cooperate during a search, although it’s a good idea to still ask questions such as “can you tell me why you’re searching me?”, and politely but clearly tell police if you don’t agree to the search. The police officer must tell you why they want to search you. 

In some cases, police are allowed to pat down your outer clothing, and in limited cases they can do a strip search, which is where they can ask you to remove your clothes and examine your body. There are laws about how they can do this, for example they must try and cause you minimum embarrassment and take care to protect your dignity. If you are under 18, in most cases police must make sure you have a support person with you while they search you.

The police have taken my things. Can they do this?

If the police think you’re under 18, they can take and keep any alcohol that they think you’ve been drinking in public and also any cigarettes they find on you.

A police officer can also take something that belongs to you in other situations, for example if they think: 

  • you intend to use it to hurt yourself or others; or 
  • it can be used as evidence to prove someone broke the law.

If the police take something of yours that you think is not illegal for you to have, you can ask the police for it back. If the police do not return it to you, you probably will need to ask for it back if you go to court. 

Need more help?

If you are under 25 and you have questions about your rights with police, you can contact us for free and confidential legal advice here.  

You can also check out this booklet on Police Powers – Your Rights written by Caxton Legal Centre in Queensland.  

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