This is a guide to what you can do and what you must do when you are questioned or arrested by the police. If you are in trouble with the police and at a police station, you should ask to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer’s job is to help and advise you, to look after your rights and to see that you are treated according to the law, regardless of whether you’ve committed a crime.
You can either ring your own lawyer or have the police provide you with a list of lawyers and their phone numbers, and the opportunity to call one of them. There is no cost to you for using a lawyer from this list at this stage.
When a police officer stops or questions you, you should:
If a friend is arrested or spoken to by the police, get help from a lawyer or from your friend’s family. Do not interfere personally. Children and young people (defined as being under 18 years) can be more vulnerable than adults in their contacts with the police and so have special rights − ask about them.
If the police:
Ask you to stop: You should stop. If driving a car, the driver must stop.
Question you: If you have been arrested, you must give your name, address, occupation and date and place of birth. If a vehicle is involved, you must give the name and details of its owner, hirer or driver, and if you are the owner or hirer, you must give the names and details of the driver and passengers. It’s your decision whether you answer any other questions – you don’t have to. You are entitled to talk to a lawyer before you answer any other questions or make a written or spoken statement.
Ask you to go with them: You don’t have to go with the police unless:
Want to search you or your home: They can search your home or other premises such as your office:
The powers of the police to arrest and to question those under 18 are restricted. A child or young person is entitled to have a lawyer or another adult (or both) present when the police are questioning or taking a statement from him or her. The police officer must explain to the child or young person his or her rights in language they can understand.
The police must contact the child or young person’s parents or guardians to tell them they have been arrested or are at the police station. Ask the police officer about these rights and if you are uncertain, speak to a lawyer before a child or young person is interviewed.
If you’re arrested, you must give your fingerprints and allow a photograph of yourself to be taken. The police might also take your fingerprints as part of the routine investigation of a crime. This doesn’t mean that you are under suspicion.
The police may want to be able to rule out the fingerprints of innocent people where the fingerprints were found − for instance, your fingerprints in your own home. It’s your decision whether you give your prints and if you do, the police should destroy those prints after they’ve finished checking. In some situations, and where the court orders it or you consent, the police may take blood samples for the purpose of DNA analysis.
If you are at the police station because the police suspect you might have committed a crime
If you don’t see a lawyer before you’re taken to court, make sure you see the duty lawyer at court. This is another free legal service.
If you have a complaint about the police, it’s important to act quickly. You can:
Find out the name or number of the police officer involved and write this down as soon as possible together with a description of what happened (including the time and place) of the incident you want to complain about. If your complaint is serious, you’ll want a lawyer to help you and this statement will be important and valuable. See a lawyer as soon as you can.
Lawyers deal with many personal, family, business and property matters and transactions. No one else has the training and experience to advise you on matters relating to the law. If your lawyer can’t help you with a particular matter, he or she will refer you to another specialist.
Seeing a lawyer before a problem gets too big can save you anxiety and money. Lawyers must follow certain standards of professional behaviour as set out in their rules of conduct and client care.
When you instruct a lawyer, he or she must provide you with certain information, as outlined in our guide Seeing a lawyer – what can you expect?
This includes informing you up front about the basis on which fees will be charged, and how and when they are to be paid. The fee, which must be fair and reasonable, will take into account the time taken and the lawyer’s skill, specialised knowledge and experience. It may also depend on the importance, urgency and complexity of the matter.
There could also be other costs to pay, such as court fees. You should discuss with your lawyer how you will pay for the work and advice if you don’t want to spend more than a certain sum without the lawyer checking with you.
A lawyer is required to tell you if you might be entitled to legal aid. The guide Seeing a lawyer – what can you expect? also outlines how you can help control your legal costs and get best value from your lawyer.
Choose your own lawyer for independent advice. You do not have to use the same lawyer as your partner or anyone else involved in the same legal matter. In fact, sometimes you must each get independent legal advice.
Lawyers must have a practising certificate issued by the New Zealand Law Society. You can call the Law Society on (04) 472 7837 (or at one of the offices listed below) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if the person you plan to consult holds a current practising certificate. You can also check this on the register accessible through the website www.lawsociety.org.nz.
If you have a concern about a lawyer, you can talk to the Lawyers Complaints Service, phone 0800 261 801.