The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.
If you’re arrested, or you have any other type of contact with the Police, you may not have time to think about your legal rights, or to find out whether the Police are entitled to exercise their powers. Understanding your rights can give you more confidence about what to do in all types of situations for example, traffic or pedestrian infringements, to more serious offences.
Under Victorian law, the Police have powers to direct people to behave in specific ways, or to do certain things.
Police powers include:
Usually, the Police are only allowed to use these powers in particular circumstances, for example:
If requested, you must give a Police officer your name and address. They can only ask for it in certain circumstances, including:
Helping someone else commit a crime is also an offence and the Police can ask for your name and address if they believe you helped someone else.
If a Police Officer asks for your name and address, you are allowed to ask for their name, rank, and their Police Station.
If you refuse to give your name and address in any of these circumstances, or if you give false information, they may charge you with a crime.
You’re not required to give Police your phone number.
In some circumstances, other auhorities (who are not the Police) can request you to provide personal information. For example:
You’re only required to give the Police your name and address. You don’t have to answer any other questions, but you can choose to answer, for example, if you witnessed a crime.
If the Police suspect you of committing a crime, they have to let you know that you’re a suspect. They must tell you that anything you say may be used in evidence. This is known as a caution, and it means that if you’re charged with a criminal offence, they may tell a Court about any information you provided during questioning if they think it helps their case.
Sometimes, the Police may ask you to provide a statement, for example, if you witnessed a crime, or if they suspect you of committing a crime.
A statement is a written record of what you have told the Police about the incident. It is your version of events. Usually, the Police type your statement into a document and then ask you to check it. You must check it carefully and tell the Police if any information is incorrect. If you’re satisfied that the statement is accurate, the Police will ask you to sign and date it. Don’t sign the statement if any part of it is incorrect.
You don’t have to provide a statement to Police. If you’re suspected of a crime but would like to provide a statement, you should get legal advice before telling the Police anything (except your name and address).
If you give a statement, you must tell the truth. It’s an offence to give a false statement.
Police Officers can search you or your property if they have a warrant allowing them to do so, or if they have arrested you. You have the right to ask why you’re being searched, and to be given a reason.
If you’re not under arrest, Police Officers don’t need a warrant to search you or your property, provided that:
Before any search begins, ask the Police why they want to search you. They must give you a reason.
The Police can also search your car.
If you’re under the age of 18, Police can search you, your clothing or your bags if they suspect you are carrying:
There are different types of searches, including:
The Police must follow specific rules, depending on the type of search. For example, they can only strip search you if the search is conducted in a private place (for example, a Police station). There are special requirements for people under the age of 18, or who have an intellectual impairment or disability.
The Police can confiscate (take away or seize) anything that you’re carrying which is illegal or is evidence of a crime.
Police can arrest you if:
The Police can’t arrest you without a reason. You can ask the Police Officer why you are under arrest and they must tell you why you’re under arrest.
The Police can use reasonable force to arrest you, if you resist.
If you’re arrested, the Police will take you into custody. You can’t leave until the Police release you.
If you’re arrested, the Police must give you a caution. This is a statement which says:
You do not have to say or do anything, but anything you say or do may be given in evidence
What this means is that you don’t have to answer questions (except to give your name and address if asked). If you choose to answer questions, the Police may use your answers as evidence.
Police must also tell you that you have the right to make a phone call to a lawyer, and a phone call to a support person (for example, a friend or family member)
You also have the right to:
If you are under the age of 18 or have a mental impairment or illness, you have the right to have a support person with you. If you don’t speak English as a first language, you have the right to an interpreter.
It’s always best to cooperate with Police. If the Police tell you that you’re under arrest, you must go with them. If you refuse or try to stop them, you may be charged with resisting arrest.
You have the right to ask for a lawyer if you’re arrested. We recommend that you ask for a lawyer if the Police:
If you can’t afford a lawyer, don’t have a lawyer, or can’t contact your lawyer, the Police can give you a list of lawyers who can help. There are lawyers who may be able to give you advice and represent you, free of charge.
Always seek legal advice before answering any Police questions, or give a statement or an interview.
The Police may interview you to find out more about the circumstances that led to your arrest, or to find out your version of events.
Before interviewing you, the Police must caution you:
You do not have to say or do anything, but anything you say or do may be given in evidence
If you don’t understand the caution or your rights, you can ask the Police Officer to explain in more detail.
They must also tell you that you have the right to call a lawyer and a support person (usually a friend or family member). You can tell the officer that you want to make the phone calls. The interview should not go ahead until you have had the chance to arrange for a support person or lawyer to attend.
You shouldn’t give an interview to Police without first getting legal advice
The Police may record the interview (and the caution) depending on how serious the charges.
The only information you’re required to give the Police is your name and address. You don’t have to answer any other questions. You’re allowed to say no-comment in answer to their questions. If you decide to answer any questions, it’s important to tell the truth.
Being taken into custody means you’re detained in Police care until you’re released. Usually, you are taken to a Police station or custody centre. You aren’t free to leave until the Police allow you to leave.
The Police can only keep you in custody for a limited time. At law, this is called a reasonable time. After a reasonable time, they must either charge you with a crime or release you.
During your time in custody, the Police may interview you
After your arrest, the Police can release you from their custody:
Police can give you bail at the Police station or you can ask for bail. If you request bail but the Police refuse, they must act within a reasonable time to take you to Court to allow you to apply for bail and attend a bail hearing. During the bail hearing, a Magistrate will consider the circumstances and decide whether you should be bailed. If the Court is closed, Police can get a bail justice to come to the station to consider your application for bail. If you believe you have been in custody for too long or you need help with bail, you can ask to speak to a lawyer, or you can make a complaint
Fingerprints include prints or scans of your fingers, palms, toes, or the soles of your feet.
Police can only take fingerprints for indictable (serious) offences, or for serious summary offences (offences which are slightly less serious than indictable offences).
You can refuse to have a body sample taken. However if you do refuse, the Police can apply for a Court Order requiring you to provide a body sample.
Depending on the seriousness of the offence, the Police may take your fingerprints after your arrest. For children under the age of 18, there are special rules about taking fingerprints.
The Police can only keep your fingerprints if they charge you with a crime. If they haven’t charged you after six months, they must destroy the records. Similarly, if your matter goes to Court and you’re found not guilty, the Police must destroy the records. You can ask Police whether they have destroyed your fingerprints.
In some circumstances, the Police may wish to keep your finger prints for a longer time. They must apply to Court for an Order allowing them to do so.
If you’re found guilty of an offence as an adult, the Police can keep your fingerprints forever.
For children under the age of 18 who are found guilty of an offence, the Police must destroy your records when you turn 26 years old, provided that you don’t re-offend before your 26th birthday. They can keep your records after you turn 26 if you were charged with a serious offence such as murder, assault or rape.
The Police can only keep your body samples if they charge you with a crime. If, after 12 months, they haven’t charged you, they must destroy the records. Similarly, if the matter goes to Court and you’re found not guilty, the Police must destroy the records.
If the Police wish to keep your samples for longer, they must apply to Court for an Order allowing them to do so.
If you’re found guilty of an offence as an adult, the Police can keep your body samples forever.
For children under the age of 18 who are found guilty, the Police must destroy your samples when you turn 26 years old, provided that you don’t re-offend before your 26th birthday. They can keep your samples after you turn 26 if you were charged with a serious offence such as murder, assault or rape.
Yes. If you believe the Police treated you inappropriately or unfairly, you can make a complaint.
Complaints about Police can cover a range of issues. You should report a complaint as soon as possible.
For less serious complaints, such as rudeness and poor communication, Victoria Police encourage you to complain to your local Police Station.
However, if you’re not comfortable doing this, or you wish to complain about a more significant issue, you can make a complaint to the Police Conduct Unit (PCU). These issues may include:
You can make a complaint yourself, or we can refer you to a private lawyer for help.
You can complete a complaint form online, or telephone the PCU on 1300 363 101 to arrange for a form to be sent to you.
If you’re of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, you can ask to speak to a Police Aboriginal Liaison Officer at the PCU about your complaint.
You (or your support person) must fill in the form. It will ask you for details including:
If you have completed a paper version of the form, you need to email, post or deliver it to your local Police Station. Details about how to submit it are included at the bottom of the form.
It’s a crime to make a false or misleading complaint. You must make sure that everything in your complaint is truthful and accurate.
You’re allowed to withdraw your complaint at any time. If you’re considering this, you can contact us for advice.
If you need help in drafting your complaint, or to understand the process, the Police Accountability Project (PAP) has some useful resources. PAP helps Victorians with complaints against Police, especially in the areas of:
Once the PCU receives your complaint, it should investigate. PCU officers may need to speak to:
Investigation times can range from days to months, depending on seriousness and complexity. The PCU should keep you informed of the progress of the investigation.
Once the investigation is complete, PCU must tell you the outcome. It could include a range of things, for example:
Complaints to IBAC
If you’re not comfortable complaining to the PCU, or if you’re not satisfied with the PCU investigation or findings, you can complain to the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC). One of the advantages of IBAC is its independence – it’s not part of the Victorian Police.
Usually, IBAC will only investigate if your complaint is serious, for example, if it concerns Police misconduct or corruption. IBAC may refer your complaint to the Police for investigation if it’s not serious enough to investigate.
If you’re worried about the Police Officer knowing who you are, you can report them without giving your name (an anonymous complaint).
If you’re not happy with the outcome of your complaint against the Police, or if you don’t feel comfortable making a complaint, you can sue the Police (a civil claim). This is known as private legal action.
Typically, private legal action involves suing for compensation and damages because of:
Before deciding to sue, we recommend that you seek legal advice. You can contact us for more information about lawyers and services which may be able to help you.
Usually, you have three years from the date of the incident to take legal action.
We can give you legal advice, help you fill out forms and refer you to other legal services for free legal representation.
Last modified on April 29th, 2021 at 10:00 am