Knowing your rights and how to effectively communicate with the police is vital, especially if you’ve been charged with or are a witness to a crime. It ensures you are prepared in case you get in trouble and the nuances can make a significant difference in the outcomes of your situation.

The Right to Silence

While there’s no constitutional right to silence in Australia, there is a privilege against self-incrimination as defined in common law. This right applies not only in criminal trials, but also when you are suspected of a crime or in civil legal proceedings. The right to silence is designed to protect a person from being forced to testify against or incriminate themselves. However, this right is not absolute. 

There are some situations where the government can require a person to provide information, even if it could incriminate them. This includes certain corporate, workplace safety, and government investigations, or if there is physical evidence against you. On top of this, the police still have the right to ask you basic questions, and if you refuse to answer these basic queries you may be breaking the law. Let’s take a closer look.

When Can I Not Remain Silent?

When interacting with the police, there are certain situations where you are required to provide basic personal information:

Identifying Yourself

When the police ask you basic questions, such as your name and address, you must provide this information, even if you don’t want to answer other questions. The officer must warn you that it is an offence to not provide factual information. 

Drug-Related Matters

If the police suspect you are involved in a drug-related offence, they may request your place and date of birth. Providing this information is typically required in such cases.

Traffic Violations and Accidents

If the police suspect you have broken traffic laws or if you have witnessed an accident, they have broad powers to gather information from you. This can include details about your involvement or observations.

Special Offences

Under specific laws, such as the Liquor Act or organised crime legislation, the police may have additional powers to ask you questions and require information.

When to Invoke Your Right to Silence

If none of the above situations are relevant, here is when you can (and should) invoke your right to silence). 

Police Questioning

If the police stop you on the street or bring you in for questioning, you can refuse to answer any of their questions. You do not have to provide a written statement either.

Government Investigations

If you are called to testify before a government body like the Independent Commission Against Corruption, you can invoke your right to silence and refuse to answer questions, unless the law specifically requires you to provide information.

Workplace Investigations

Even in corporate or workplace investigations, such as under workplace health and safety laws, you can generally assert your right to silence and refuse to answer questions, unless you are legally obligated to do so.

Informal Situations

The right to silence applies not just in formal legal proceedings, but also in more informal situations where authorities may try to question you. You can invoke your right to remain silent in these contexts as well.

The right to silence is a fundamental legal protection in Australia. You can generally refuse to answer questions or provide information that could potentially incriminate you, unless there is a specific law requiring you to do so. Seeking legal advice is recommended if you are unsure of your rights in a particular situation, and if you’re after the best criminal lawyers in SE QLD, contact us today.

Going To The Police Station

Remember that you do not have to go to a police station unless you are under arrest. This is true even if the police call you or visit your place of residence and ask you to visit the police station. If the police try and convince you to come to the police station, you can ask if you are under arrest and if they say no, then you simply don’t have to go. That being said, here are some cases of when you might go to the police station and how to not get into trouble while you are there: 

Voluntary Visits

If you choose to visit a police station voluntarily, such as to report a crime or provide information, it’s crucial to be mindful of your rights. You have the right to have a lawyer present during any questioning or interviews. It’s advisable to consult with a criminal defence lawyer before making any statements, as anything you say could potentially be used against you.

Investigative Interviews

If the police request that you come to the station for an investigative interview, you should exercise your right to have a lawyer present. Politely inform the officers that you will not answer any questions without your lawyer. Avoid making any statements or admissions, as this could jeopardise your legal position.

Arrest and Detention

If you are arrested and taken to the police station, it’s crucial to remain calm and assert your rights. You have the right to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer present during any questioning. Refrain from making any statements without your lawyer, as they could be used as evidence against you.

Requesting a Lawyer

If you are at the police station and wish to have a lawyer present, clearly and firmly state this request. The police are required to facilitate your access to legal counsel. Insist on speaking with a lawyer before answering any questions or providing any information.

Bail and Release

If you are detained at the police station, you may be eligible for bail or release. Your lawyer can assist in negotiating the terms of your release and ensuring your rights are protected throughout the process.

Preparing for a Police Interview

When facing a police interview, it’s crucial to understand your rights and options. Here’s what you should keep in mind:

  1. Seek legal advice first: If you are a suspect, it’s usually best to avoid an interview until you’ve had the chance to speak with a criminal defence lawyer. They can advise you on the best approach.
  2. Understand the risks: Anything you say during the interview will be recorded and can be used as evidence against you in court. It’s extremely difficult to get an interview thrown out later, even if you feel you’ve been misunderstood or pressured.
  3. Prepare for potential consequences: The police may start by questioning you about one charge, but your responses could lead them to bring additional, more serious charges. Even if you think the interview won’t hurt your case, it rarely helps.
  4. Know your rights: You have the right to have a private lawyer present, though they cannot interfere in the interview itself. The police must also allow you a reasonable amount of time, usually up to 2 hours, to contact a lawyer before the interview begins.
  5. Beware of police tactics: The police do not have to be truthful with you about what they know regarding the alleged incident. They may use various tactics to try to get you to incriminate yourself.

The bottom line is that you should be extremely cautious about participating in a police interview, even if you believe you have done nothing wrong. The risks often outweigh any potential benefits. Seeking legal advice is the best way to protect your rights and interests.

When to Seek Legal Counsel

In many situations, it’s advisable to have a criminal defence lawyer present when interacting with the police. This includes, but is not limited to: 

  • If you are the subject of a criminal investigation or have been arrested. 
  • If the police request to search your property or question you about a crime.
  • If you are unsure of your rights or how to properly assert them. 
  • If you have been charged with a criminal offence and need legal representation.

If you’re seeking legal advice or representation in Queensland, Donnelly Law Group is here to help. Contact us today, and let our experienced criminal lawyers in Queensland guide you through your legal challenges with confidence and skill.