Australian Civil Liberties Union

Your Rights 2001

Chapter 22


Print out section on police powers


Good relations between the police and the public depend on mutual confidence and knowledge of the rights and powers of both. The police have a difficult and responsible task, which is not made easier if members of the public refuse to cooperate because they unsure of their position. This advice is published in an endeavour to set out the rights of the public and powers of the police in some common situations. While every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this advice, it is only a general guide to your rights and cannot provide a substitute for legal advice on the facts of each case. The law varies from State to State. It is suggested that you cut out this article, fold it and carry it in your wallet or handbag. You may need it.

ARREST AND QUESTIONING. An arrest is made when a person is detained by a policeman. If you are arrested you have a right to be informed immediately of the charge You should not resist a police officer or be abusive or disorderly. If he insists that you go with him ask him if he is arresting you. If he says “Yes” ask him “What for?” as he is bound to tell you. He does not have power to detain you against your will merely to question you If you are at a demonstration when feelings are running high it can be dangerous to insist that the police respect your rights.

Whether you are arrested or are merely under suspicion, you are not obliged to answer questions or provide information to the police.

However, a driver of a motor vehicle is obliged to give his name and address to a policeman on request and must provide other limited information after an accident. If questioned by policeman where it appears you may be under suspicion, it is advisable to give your name and address. As a rule, if you consider yourself to have been wrongfully arrested or to be wrongfully under suspicion you should say that you will not make a statement until you have consulted a solicitor. You should keep repeating this. It is only in limited circumstances that an innocent person under suspicion can derive benefit from supplying information to the police in the absence a legal advisor. But if there is an explanation which will quickly and clearly show the police their suspicions are wrong it should be given.

If you are in any doubt as to your position you should ask for your solicitor to be notified, and refuse to answer questions or make a statement until you have consulted him If you decide to make a statement you may prefer to write it yourself to ensure that it accurately states what you want to say. The police should not hold out any promise or make any threats to obtain a statement from you. Any suggestion from a policeman that by making a statement you will make things easier for yourself or anyone else should be regarded with suspicion. It is essential to remain calm and courteous and to use your common sense when talking to a policeman.


ENTERING AND SEARCHING PREMISES. Policemen may enter your premises without a warrant to effect a lawful arrest or to recapture someone who has escaped from lawful custody. They cannot enter your premises without your permission to question you. With some exceptions they cannot search your premises without your consent unless they have a warrant. If the police enter your premises to effect an arrest, they should not search the premises without a search warrant.

PROCEDURE AT THE POLICE STATION. The charge against you should be formally made and recorded. You should immediately ask for your solicitor to be notified and apply for bail to secure your release. Insist on using the telephone at the police station to give any essential message to your solicitor or relatives. The police will normally fix bail. If they don’t you will need to ask a relative or friend to come to the police station with a Justice of the Peace, and to act as “surety” by lodging money, title deeds to a house, or a bank passbook, to cover the amount of bail. If you are questioned at the station bearing mind the remarks made above.

THE COURT HEARING. An accused person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. As a general rule you should never plead guilty in court unless advised to do so by a solicitor. If you have any doubts about your position, ask the Magistrate for an adjournment to give you time to consult a solicitor. If you cannot afford a solicitor apply for legal aid. If a civil liberties issue is involved a civil liberties group may be able to give assistance. Above all, remember that if you are arrested you have the right to get a solicitor, make no statement, and apply for bail.

ADVICE FOR MOTORISTS. If you are apprehended while driving, you must give your name and address to the police upon request. You need not answer any other questions. The police may require drivers of motor vehicles to furnish breath samples for breathalyser analysis. The penalties for refusal to submit are substantial and include mandatory cancellation of licence. It is an offence to drive a motor vehicle where the breathalyser reading is more than .05. Road traffic organizations assist their members in relation to road traffic law and procedure after an accident. For road service you should consult a telephone directory.

MOTOR ACCIDENTS. You must exchange names and addresses with the other persons involved. If someone has been injured, or property belonging to someone not present is damaged you must report the accident to police. You need not tell the police how the accident happened.

COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE POLICE. If you believe the police are exceeding their powers, you should make a note of their names and numbers. If you are forced to go to a police station without being arrested, if you are not told why you are arrested, if you are not permitted to communicate with your relatives and solicitors, if you are obstructed in obtaining bail, or if you have been ill-treated, you should ask the senior officer of the police station to record your complaint. At a later stage you can take the matter up with a magistrate, and, if necessary, with the Commissioner of Police, the ACLU a CCL or a Member of Parliament.

THE POLICE AND YOU — POINTS TO REMEMBER. You should give your name and address. You should be polite and calm when talking to a policeman. You don’t have to answer questions. If in doubt, don’t answer questions and then obtain legal advice. Don’t resist arrest. If arrested, ask for bail and obtain a solicitor


Legal Aid Private Solicitor
(fill in Ph. No.)
Road Service Police
(Emergency 000)
Vic 9269 0234 ................................... 131 111 9247 6666 131 114
NSW 9219 5000 ................................... 131 111 9339 0277 131 114
Qld 3238 3444 ................................... 131 111 3364 6464 131 114
SA 8463 3555 ................................... 131 111 8207 5000 131 114
WA 9261 6222 ................................... 131 111 9225 1000 131 114


Psychiatric Patients – Where to get help

Vic Legal Aid 9269 0234 Community Visitor 9603 9500 MHRB 8601 5270
NSW Legal Aid 9745 4277 Official Visitor 9620 8218 MHRT 9816 5955
WA Legal Aid 9328 8266 Official Visitor 1800 999 057 MHRB 9226 3255
Qld Legal Aid 3234 0680 Official Visitor 3234 0160 PRT 3234 0702
SA Legal Aid 8463 3555 Official Visitor 8269 7575 GB 8269 7515
Tas Legal Aid 6233 8383 Official Visitor 6233 3085 MHRB 6233 3033
All States Police emergency 000 Lifeline 131 114


Contents of Your Rights

Australian Civil Liberties Union