Police Powers in Victoria | Barwon Community Legal Service
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Male and female police officers walking along street discussing police powers in Victoria

Police powers in Victoria

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.

Understanding your legal rights

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.

What are Police powers?

Under Victorian law, the Police have powers to direct people to behave in specific ways, or to do certain things.

Police powers include:

  • Asking for a person’s name and address
  • Stop and search powers
  • Confiscating (taking away) weapons and other items such as graffiti equipment, alcohol and drugs
  • Fining or arresting a person for breaking the law, or for being drunk or disorderly in a public place
  • Giving directions to move a person on from a public place

Usually, the Police are only allowed to use these powers in particular circumstances, for example:

  • If they believe the person committed an offence
  • If they believe the person is about to commit an offence
  • To restore order
  • To maintain order

If requested, you must give a Police officer your name and address. They can only ask for it in certain circumstances, including:

  • If they believe you committed an offence (they must tell you what the offence is)
  • If they believe you are about to commit an offence (they must tell you what the offence is)
  • If you’re driving and they pull you over
  • If they believe you witnessed a crime or have information about a crime

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

In some circumstances, other auhorities (who are not the Police) can request you to provide personal information. For example:

  • Public transport inspectors and protective services officers can ask you for your name and address if you’re using public transport such as the tram, train or bus. They can also ask for this information if you’re on public transport property, such as a train station
  • If you’re in (or trying to enter) a hotel or other licensed premises, staff can ask you to show identification as proof of your age

Questions

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.

Statements

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

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:

  • You agree to the search (search by consent). You should get legal advice before agreeing to a search by consent
  • You’re in a public place and the Police reasonably believe you may be carrying drugs, explosives, graffiti equipment or weapons
  • You’re in a public place and the Police reasonably believe you may be carrying graffiti tools (for example, spray paint), you’re over the age of 14 and you’re near public transport property, or you’re trespassing on private property
  • You’re in a designated area, which is an area known for increased crime, violence or disorder

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:

  • Graffiti tools (but not if you’re younger than 14 years old). The Police can pat down the outside of your clothes to search for graffiti tools
  • Weapons or firearms
  • Stolen items
  • Drugs or volatile substances (for example, explosives)
  • Alcohol, if you agree to the search

There are different types of searches, including:

  • A pat-down search
  • A strip search
  • An internal body search

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

Police can arrest you if:

  • They believe you have broken the law; or
  • They have a warrant for your arrest; or
  • You pose a risk to a member of your family

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:

  • Know that you’re under arrest
  • Know why you’re under arrest
  • Request the name, rank and registered number of the arresting officer
  • Have privacy while making phone calls to your lawyer and support person
  • Be given a list of lawyers by the Police if you ask for it
  • Refuse an identification parade or refuse to allow your photo to be taken
  • Complain about the way the Police treated you, if you think it was unfair

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

You have the right to ask for a lawyer if you’re arrested. We recommend that you ask for a lawyer if the Police:

  • Want to interview you
  • Want you to give a statement
  • Charge you

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.

For free legal advice, contact us to find out how we can help.

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

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:

  • Without charge; or
  • After they charge you with an offence; or
  • On bail (meaning you’re charged with an offence but released on conditions, for example regularly reporting to a Police station or having to live at a particular address)

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

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

Fingerprints

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.

Body samples

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.

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

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:

  • Using excessive force
  • Making threats
  • Harassing behaviour
  • Dishonest behaviour
  • Unlawful arrest
  • Police didn’t allow you your rights (for example, the right to make phone calls after being arrested)

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:

  • Your personal information
  • The date and time of the incident
  • The location of the incident
  • Details of the Police Officers involved (if known)
  • Whether there were any witnesses
  • Details of any witnesses (if known)
  • Any relevant documents, for example, a charge sheet, Police report, or a record of interview
  • A detailed description of your complaint: what happened, including what was said and by who
  • Details of any injuries, including photos

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:

  • Racial discrimination
  • Family violence
  • Excessive use of force
  • Police misconduct

Once the PCU receives your complaint, it should investigate. PCU officers may need to speak to:

  • You
  • Any witnesses
  • The Police Officers involved

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:

  • Disciplinary action against the Officers involved (for example, warnings, suspension of employment or dismissal from their employment)
  • No action, if there isn’t enough evidence to support your complaint, or if the Police Officers are found to have not done anything wrong

For more information, see Victoria Legal Aid’s booklet: Police powers: Your rights in Victoria.

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).

For more information about making a complaint to IBAC, visit the IBAC website.

If you are considering making a complaint to IBAC, contact us for advice. We will help you weigh up your options.

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:

  • Injuries
  • Suffering
  • Loss of reputation
  • Loss of income
  • Another type of loss

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.

How can Barwon Community Legal Service help me?

We can give you legal advice, help you fill out forms and refer you to other legal services for free legal representation.

Know your rights

It’s important to understand your rights and to know where to get help.

Call us today

Last modified on April 29th, 2021 at 10:00 am

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.