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Police powers & your rights

This section covers in detail the powers that police have to arrest, charge, or question you before and during an arrest.

The formal power of police is less than is popularly imagined, and can be challenged. Much police power depends on bluff and bullying. When police insist on your "cooperation" they really mean that they want your obedience.

Police have a sworn duty to stop or prevent a "breach of the peace", which means that they may intervene, for instance, to stop damage to property or to stop a fight.

It is rare for police to exercise this power in anticipation of a breach of the peace.

The power to prevent breaches of the peace does not necessarily entitle police to take you away somewhere, or take your property (such as a banner) unless this is absolutely necessary to stop or prevent a breach of the peace.

While recent amendments to the Summary Offences Act have broadened police powers to move people on, those powers are inapplicable in certain circumstances - mostly in relation to freedom of speech and assembly. Move on powers do not apply to people who, whether alone or with others are:

  • Picketing a place of employment
  • Demonstrating or protesting about a particular issue
  • Speaking, bearing or otherwise identifying with a banner, placard or sign or otherwise behaving in a way that is apparently intended to publicise the person's view about a particular issue

Note, however, that the recent amendments also introduced a broad offence for “disorderly conduct”. A person can be arrested for disorderly conduct.

For a short guide on your basic rights when arrested go to Activist legal rights - a short guide in the Support team resources section.