Police arrests 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 if you are arrested or detained by police, and there are special laws that apply if you are under 18. If you aren’t sure if you have been arrested, it’s important to (politely) ask police. 

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When can I be arrested?

The police generally need a warrant to arrest you (a warrant is special permission from a court). However, police can arrest you without a warrant in some situations, for example if they think that it is necessary to: 

  • stop you committing any crime or continuing to commit a crime; 
  • stop you destroying or changing evidence; 
  • if police think you have committed a domestic violence offence; 
  • stop you fleeing from a police officer or from the scene of a crime; 
  • to make sure you go to court.

The police have to always tell you why you have been arrested. If they don’t, or if you don’t understand, it’s a good idea to ask. 

There are special rules for young people who are under 18, and in general, police should try to arrest a young person only as a last resort.

Can the police use force to arrest me?

A police officer can use as much force as they need to arrest you or stop you escaping, but nothing more. This means that if you cooperate the police can’t use force, but the more you resist arrest the more force police can use. Resisting arrest by using physical force or running away, or threatening a police officer, are serious crimes. 

For this reason, it’s important not to fight, run away or argue if a police officer places you under arrest. You can always politely ask why you are under arrest, and ask for the officer’s name, rank, badge number and police station. You can write down these details and what happened so you can get legal advice or make a complaint if you think you have been treated unfairly.  

Interviews while in police custody

Police can question you if you have been detained for questioning or arrested. It’s really important to remember that you have a right to silence, which means you don’t have to answer police questions (other than giving your personal details in some cases).

Before the police can interview you for a serious offence, they have to tell you that you can call a friend or family member and a lawyer and ask them to be with you during an interview. Police have to make sure in most cases that you can speak with a lawyer without being overheard. All LGBTQI people can ask for an LGBTQI liaison officer to support them.

If you are under 18, there are special laws that apply to questioning about a serious offence, so it’s important that you tell the police if you are under 18 and they try to ask you questions. For example, the police cannot interview you without a parent, lawyer or adult friend of your choice there with you. If you haven’t arranged a lawyer, then police must try and contact someone at a legal aid organisation.

There are also limits to how long police can interview you for (usually 4 hours, although the court can extend this).

How long can police keep me for?

If you are arrested, the police can keep you for a reasonable amount of time to ask you questions about a crime they think you have committed, or to take you to see a judge. However, police can’t keep you for longer than 8 hours after you have been arrested without making an application to a court.

Searches while in police custody

If you have been arrested, or if you are in police custody for another legal reason, then police can search you.

There are laws about how police searches must be done. For example police must try and cause you minimum embarrassment and take care to protect your dignity. If you are under 18, then in most cases police must make sure you have a support person with you while they search you.

In most cases, a search should be done by someone who is the same sex as you. If police require you to remove some or all of your clothes, then they should tell you the reasons for this, and do so in a way that gives you privacy and allows you to get dressed as soon as it is finished. 

It’s a good idea to cooperate with a search, but you can always ask questions such as “Can you tell me why you’re searching me?”. If you think the police have behaved inappropriately, it’s a good idea to get legal advice as soon as you can. 

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person

There are special laws that apply to police before they can question a person they think might be an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander person. For example, if the person has not arranged for a lawyer to be with them for questioning, the police must in most cases tell the person that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) (ATSILS) will be told they are in custody, and try and contact ATSILS.

For this reason, it can be important to tell police if you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, if you feel comfortable. 

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, you can call ATSILS for free on 1800 012 255 (state-wide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). You can also find out more on their website, here.

Need more help?

If you are under 25 and have questions about police powers, you can contact us for help here. You can also call Queensland Legal Aid Youth Hotline on 1800 527 527. 

Want to read more? You can check out this booklet on Police Powers – Your Rights written by Caxton Legal Centre in Queensland.  

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, you can: 

  • call the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) for free legal help on 1800 012 255 (state-wide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) 
  • check out these factsheets on their website. 

If you’re over 25, and you need legal help, please contact Legal Aid Queensland on 1300 65 11 88.  

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