If you have been arrested, you should always politely insist that you have the chance to call a lawyer.

Do not resist police, even if you do not think your arrest is fair or lawful. If you resist police, you may be committing additional offences. Most people will advise you to not make a statement to police until you have spoken to a lawyer. Remember that you have the right to remain silent and if you say or do anything, that may be used in evidence against you.

When can a police officer arrest me?

A police officer may arrest you if:

  • They suspect on reasonable grounds that you have committed an offence or are about to commit an offence
  • They have a warrant for your arrest
  • They have stopped you for a breach of the peace (threatening violence, or provoking someone else to be violent)
  • They believe on reasonable grounds that you have breached your bail conditions, or
  • They need to serve an apprehended violence order (AVO) on you.

Are there any rules the police have to follow?

The police office must identify themselves, tell you that you are under arrest and explain why. They must also caution you that you don’t have to say to say or do anything, but that if you do, it may be used in evidence against you.

The police can use reasonable force to arrest you, but if you think the force was unreasonable – if for example it was unnecessarily violent– make sure you tell your lawyer as it may be relevant later in court.

How long can police hold me at the station?

Police cannot hold you for more than six hours, unless they have an extension granted by a detention warrant. After six hours the police must either charge you or release you without charge.

Note: there are some exceptions to this rule, such as for terrorism offences. It’s best if you ask your lawyer about those.

If I don’t answer questions, will that be used against me?

Generally speaking, you have a right to silence at all stages of the legal process. There are some exceptions where you have to answer questions, such as when you have been involved in a traffic accident. That’s why it’s best to seek advice from a lawyer who can explain it to you.

For example, it certain circumstances it is an offence not to answer questions.

Can police stop and search me?

Police can only stop and search you if they suspect on reasonable grounds that you are carrying items such as stolen goods, prohibited drugs, dangerous articles or something that is used in connection with an offence – eg, implements used to carry out a burglary.

At some events like sport and music festivals police can use sniffer dogs for “general drug detection” and if the dog detects a scent and “indicates” you, the police have reasonable grounds to search you.

What do I need to remember?

  • Police do not have the power to stop or detain you just to ask questions
  • You don’t have to answer any questions, apart from giving your name and address.
  • If you are being arrested, don’t try to resist arrest – you could be charged with another offence.
  • If you are under 18 there must be a responsible adult such as a parent or lawyer present when you speak to police, or the evidence will not be admissible against you in court.

Disclaimer: the information in this article is just a guide and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice from a qualified professional. The Law Society’s Find A Lawyer search can help if you’re looking for legal advice based on your individual circumstances.