Thinking of protesting in NSW

Here’s what you should know about Police powers

Protesting often attracts the attention of the police.  Whatever the subject matter, police generally only intervene in peaceful protests to prevent offences or harm to the general public.

If you’re happily chanting and waving a sign and a Police Officer taps you on the shoulder, here’s the Top 5 things you should know:

Do you have to give the Police your personal details?

If you want to, you can!  However, generally, there’s no obligation to speak to police or provide them with your name and address, unless they reasonably believe that you committed an offence / witnessed a serious crime. There’s certain exceptions, such as if you’re suspected of a ‘terrorism-related offence,’ or you’ve been arrested.

What is a ‘move on direction?’

At some protests, police may order you to ‘move on’ from a certain area or stop doing something. They can only make these directions where you’re obstructing people or traffic, harassing or intimidating people, acting in a way that may cause fear to others or possessing, receiving or supplying drugs.  Police must tell you the reason for the ‘move on’ direction, and tell you that if you disobey the order, it may count as an offence. If you refuse to move on, they must ask you again.  It is only after they order you to move on again that they can fine or charge you.

When can the Police arrest you?

You can be arrested if police reasonably suspect that you’ve committed an offence, or you are about to commit an offence; where they have a warrant for your arrest; or know or reasonably suspect that you’ve breached bail conditions.

The most common types of offences that protesters are charged with are resisting or hindering police, obstructing traffic and offensive conduct.  ‘Breaching the peace’ is not an actual offence under NSW law, but police can arrest and detain people to prevent it.

What rights do you have if you’re arrested? 

Police must tell you that you are under arrest and what you have been arrested for. They can only use reasonable force in arresting you, which should only be enough to prevent you from resisting arrest.

When arresting you, you must be informed of your right to silence and your rights. At the police station, you must be given an opportunity to contact family or friends or a lawyer, and to have a lawyer present if you submit to police questioning.  You are not obliged to speak to police or take part in an interview.  In fact, it’s often advisable not to speak to police until you’ve sought legal advice. Finally, you must be given the opportunity to receive medical assistance if you are sick or injured and be provided with food, water and access to a bathroom.

How long can police hold you after you’ve been arrested? 

You can only be held in custody for a ‘reasonable period,’ which cannot exceed 4 hours, after which they must charge you with an offence or release you.  This period may be extended if Police are able to obtain a warrant from an authorised justice.

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