What are Your Rights if the Police Drop Around for a Chat?

This one covers both Australian and New Zealand law, so it’s handy for those of us on both sides of the Tasman.

In a series of notorious recent incidents, British police have embarked on a sinister campaign of coercing social media users, from intimidating “visits” to being arrested and dragged off to the lockup.

A similarly Orwellian campaign is being undertaken by New Zealand police. NZ citizens have begun receiving “visits” from armed police, questioning their social media activity. Law-abiding New Zealanders are allegedly being similarly interrogated about their voting habits and who their friends are. In one case, dozens of police closed off an entire street just to grill someone about their YouTube videos.

In one case, the citizen neglected to make a record of the police “visit”, but in another, the homeowner filmed the entire incident.

So, what exactly are Australians’ and New Zealanders’ rights here?

Firstly, in any encounter with police, you have the right to remain silent other than giving your name, address, and if necessary, your date of birth. That includes written statements. Unless you are actually arrested, you don’t have to go anywhere with police. That includes even “Come over here for a chat”.

Police can only search your home if you consent, or they have a valid search warrant, or they have reasonable grounds to believe an offense has been committed. What are “reasonable grounds”? Exercising your right to silence is not reasonable ground on its own. A police officer can “Stop and Search” you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying or that they will find illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property, or something which could be used to commit a crime (a crowbar, for instance).

If you are approached or questioned by a police officer, they should be able to tell you what police station they come from and show you their police identification card (particularly if they are in plain clothes).

Are you allowed to film police?

It should be noted that the police in the video in question merely declined to discuss the reason for their visit on camera. But there have been many cases where police have actively tried to prevent citizens from filming them at work. Except in special circumstances, they have no right to do so.

In 2001, NZ civil liberties site, Tech Liberty sought advice from the then-Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Police. Their replies show that New Zealand is in line with British and Australian law: it is perfectly legal to film or photograph police at work in a public place, or with the landowner’s consent if on private property.

In Australia and New Zealand the police can’t stop you from documenting what they are doing. They have no power to stop you, seize your camera or force you to delete images or video.

Be aware that there are certain circumstances in which police are allowed to stop you doing so. You must not interfere with the performance of the police officer’s duties. Police can also prevent you filming when they are performing covert operations like anti-terror raids, or in any situation where there are legitimate safety concerns for bystanders (such as during natural disasters or a mass shooting incident). Police may also seize your recording device as evidence if they believe you have captured a crime.

Police may also order you to “Move Along” if they believe on reasonable grounds that you are obstructing another person, obstructing traffic, harassing or intimidating another person or persons, or causing, or likely to cause, fear to another person or persons.

Be aware that it is also illegal to use a phone or other recording device to audio record a private conversation without consent.

If you do record police, protect yourself by firstly ensuring that the filming was done openly. Calmly explain what you are doing and state you have a legal right to do so. Do not infringe on the officer’s duties.

Finally, National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have provided the following handy script for citizens dealing with police:

Officer, if I am under arrest or being detained, please tell me so.

If I am free to go, please tell me so. If I am not free to go, please tell me why.

I wish to exercise all my legal rights including my right to silence and my right to speak to a lawyer before I say anything to you.

I do not consent to be searched. I wish to be released without delay.

Please do not ask me questions, because I will not willingly talk to you until I speak to a lawyer.

Thank you for respecting my rights.

You can download NORML’s “Freedom Card” here.

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