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Police powers in Queensland have changed considerably in the last decade following the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

The Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 took effect from 1 July 2000. The Act consolidates the powers and responsibilities of police officers and aims to protect the civil rights of the public. The legislation is extensive. This summary deals with situations that are most relevant to everyday life.

Entry, Inquiries and Inspection

Police may enter and stay on a place in circumstances that may otherwise be trespass to inquire into or investigate a matter. However, police can only enter and stay on the premises for a reasonable time, can only use minimal force to enter the place and cannot enter a dwelling without the consent of the occupier, otherwise a warrant is necessary. The Act gives examples of what constitutes an inquiry and what is minimal force.

Search warrants

Police are able to search a person or vehicle without warrant if there is reasonable suspicion of a “prescribed circumstance”. Examples of “prescribed circumstances” include if the person is in possession of unlawful weapons, drugs or stolen property. Police can also search persons without a warrant if they believe that person possesses something which was used in committing an indictable offence.

Police are permitted to enter and stay on a place open to the public for a time reasonably necessary to, for example, search for evidence of an offence, or seize anything found at the place or on a person at the place which the police officer reasonably suspects may be evidence of an offence.

Power to require name, address or age

A police officer can require a person to state their correct name and address if, for example, the officer suspects the person of committing an indictable offence, the officer suspects the person has been or is about to be involved in an act of domestic violence or the officer believes the person may be able to assist in the investigation of an indictable offence.

A police officer can require a person to state their correct date of birth if the age of the person is relevant to their entitlement to be at the place, for example, in a casino or a nightclub.

Directions to move-on

Police can issue a direction to a person to move away from a public area if it is reasonable in the circumstances. Examples of reasonable circumstances include people fighting in a night club carpark; a person approaching a primary school child in circumstances that would distress or upset a reasonable parent; or a person blocking the entry to a shop premises following a complaint by the occupier.

Investigating and questioning

Police can detain a person for a reasonable time to investigate or question the person about an indictable offence that has been committed or the police suspect the person of having committed. Police generally cannot detain a person for more than eight hours and the person cannot be questioned for more than four hours.

Safeguards ensuring rights of and fairness to persons questioned for indictable offences

Before a police officer can start questioning a person for an indictable offence, the officer must inform the person that he or she can phone a friend or relative to inform them of their whereabouts and ask them to be present and phone a lawyer and arrange for the lawyer to be present. The Act maintains the right of a person not to answer questions of the Police unless that person wishes to.

Questioning of children

Police cannot question a child unless the child has had a chance to speak to a support person and the support person is present while the child is questioned.

Questioning of intoxicated persons

Police cannot question intoxicated persons until the police officer is satisfied that the intoxicating liquor or drug is no longer affecting the person’s ability to understand his or her rights and to decide whether or not to answer questions.

Recording of questioning

The police officer conducting an interview is required to electronically record the interview where reasonably practicable. Any confessions or admissions made during the interview are admissible in Court if they form part of the record of interview. Audio, video and transcript copies of the record of interview are to be made available by the police to the person or the person’s lawyer upon request.

Stock squad

If a police officer reasonably suspects an offence involving animals (cattle, sheep, horses etc) the police may enter any place to search and inspect animals and branding equipment and seize anything they suspect is evidence of an offence and muster or detain animals. This includes the power to stop vehicles transporting animals.

Medical and dental procedures

If a person is suspected of having committed an offence a police officer can require a doctor or dentist to perform a medical or dental procedure with the consent of the person. If such consent is not given the police can apply to a Magistrate for approval of the procedure. The power allows taking samples of blood, saliva, hair, urine or dental impressions which may become evidence linking the person to the offence.