Speaking to the police

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Speaking to the police

In general, you have the right not to answer any questions the police ask you. It can be a good idea to use this right, because what you say to the police, no matter when or where, could be used against you.

However, there are some times when the law says that you must give your name and address to the police.

You can ask to speak with a lawyer before you answer any other questions.

Giving your name and address

The police do not have the right to demand your name or address without a reason. Generally, a police officer can only ask you to give your name and address if they believe you:

  • have committed an offence
  • are about to commit an offence.

For example, a police officer can ask you for your name and address if they believe you bought alcohol and you are under 18.

Other times the police can ask for your name and address are:

  • if you are driving a vehicle or boat and a police officer signals for you to stop. You must stop and show the police officer your licence or permit
  • if you are on the tram, train, bus or on public transport property (public transport inspectors and protective services officers can also ask for your name and address)
  • if you are in a hotel or licensed premises (staff can also ask your age)
  • if they believe you have information that could help them investigate an indictable offence. They must tell you what offence they think you can help them investigate.

The police must tell you why they want your details. If they don’t give you a reason, you should ask for it.

It is an offence to refuse to give police your name and address or to give police a false name and address if they have a lawful reason to ask you for your details.

Answering other questions

Police may want to ask you more questions. They may start by questioning you as a witness. Then they may question you as a suspect. The police should tell you if they think you are a suspect in a criminal offence. They will tell you your rights before they question you.

In either case, you do not have to answer any other questions because you have the right to be silent. If the police officer tells you that you are breaking the law by refusing them information, ask to speak with a lawyer.

However, if someone was using your car or motorbike and the police officer asks you for that person’s name, you have to give it. If you do not, the police could charge you with an offence.

What you say could be used as evidence

There is no such thing as speaking ‘off the record’. Anything you say to a police officer may be used by them to arrest or charge you. The police could use the things you said as evidence in court to show that you broke the law.

Being asked to move on from a public place

In some situations police can direct you to leave a public place if they suspect you are:

  • disrupting or are likely to disrupt the peace
  • behaving in a way that may be dangerous to public safety
  • likely to cause injury or damage to property.

They do not have to do this in writing, they can just tell everyone to move on. They can also ask you for your name and address if they are going to give you a direction to move on.

This is likely to affect people who are homeless or people with mental health issues.

Police cannot direct you to move on if you are demonstrating about a political issue or taking part in employment strike action. 

What happens if you do not move on

If an officer gives a direction, you have to stay away from that place for up to 24 hours. If you refuse to move on or stay away from the area without a reasonable excuse, the police can issue an on-the-spot fine of two penalty units.

If the matter is heard in court, the maximum fine is five penalty units.

Going to the police station

If the police want you to go with them to a police station, you can refuse unless they are arresting you or in special circumstances such as:

Always ask why they want you to go with them. If you ask the police, they must also give you their name, police station and rank. You can ask for this in writing.

Making a statement

A statement is a written document to the police. It is your version of events. You may be asked to make a statement as a witness or a suspect.

If you are a suspect

You do not have to make a statement. If you choose to make a statement, the police may charge you on the basis of what you say in it. Police will charge people when they believe there is evidence to show that the person broke the law. Sometimes the only evidence against you is what you said in your statement or in the record of your interview.

If you want to make a statement get legal advice.

If you witness a crime

The police cannot force anyone to make a statement. However, they may get a subpoena to make you go to court to give evidence.

Signing the statement

If you do decide to make a sworn statement, the police will ask you to sign it under oath. An oath is a solemn promise that the statement is true.

Read the statement carefully. The police can charge you with perjury if you make a statement that you know is not true, so do not sign it unless you agree with everything in it.

You can also change the statement before you sign it.

Getting police details

If a police officer asks you for your name and address, you have a right to ask them for their details. 

The police officer does not have to give you their details automatically. Ask for their name, their rank and the police station where they work. You can also ask for these details in writing. This information may be useful later. For example, you may want to complain about the police officer or report them. 

The police officer can be fined if they refuse to give you their name, rank and police station.

Get help

Find out how you can get help dealing with police.

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