Law Enforcement

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Law Enforcement





The Police

The New Zealand Police are there to ensure the safety of the people. For more information on the police, visit the New Zealand Police website.


Entry Powers

The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 gives useful information on the police powers to enter and search your property, and to search you.

Entry powers are when the police can come into your home. In most cases, the police do not automatically have the right to enter your home unless you have given your consent for them to do so.

In most circumstances, in order for the police to be able to enter your home, even if you did not agree to it, they need a search warrant. There are special circumstances where they can enter without a warrant, such as when making an arrest, preventing crimes, seizing evidence, in emergencies, and enforcing specific laws.

They do not need a warrant to come onto your property and knock on the door. You can refuse the police entering your home by saying “no” to them, and they must leave. If you have agreed to the police entering your home, you can ask them to leave at any time and they have to leave immediately. 

If the police have a warrant, you must let them into your home. They must have the warrant with them, and you have a right to see the warrant. It is always a good idea to check the warrant because it allows you to check that the police are following the terms on the warrant. It is also a good idea to check the date the warrant expires because the police cannot use a warrant after the warrant expires. 


Arrest Powers 

The police can arrest you if:

  • You commit an offense punishable by a jail term, for example, armed robbery or murder.
  • You are disturbing the peace, for example, by using profanity or causing harassment.
  • They have a specific legal power to arrest you. For example, if you are found drink-driving or for crimes like common assault. 
  • They have a warrant for your arrest issued by the court. 

If you are arrested, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 says that you:

  • Must be treated with respect.
  • Must be told the reason for the arrest.
  • Must be shown the warrant.
  • Have the right to remain silent.
  • Have the right to talk to a lawyer.
  • Must either be charged within a reasonable time or be released.
  • If they do not release you, they have to bring a case before the court as soon as possible.

It is important to know these rights, because if the police breach any of them, it may be a factor in any court case against you. 


Search Powers

The police can search your property if you give them permission as the occupier of the property, or if they have permission by law. 

The only times that a police officer can search you personally is if you agree to a body search, if they have the power under the law, or if they arrest you. The police can search you personally under law, with or without a warrant, if they have good reason to believe you have illegal drugs on you or if you are carrying offensive weapons such as a gun. If you are arrested under the law, such as under the Misuse of Drugs Act, only a doctor can do an internal examination of your body in a way that the law allows them to.

If you are arrested the police have the power to carry out strip searches. This must be done by an officer of the same sex as you. When the police carry out a strip search they may ask you to undress or remove your clothing so that your genitals, breasts, or buttocks are exposed. However, strip searches can only be carried out if the law allows the police to do so under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 or if there is a justification for the police to do so. More information on strip searches can be found on the New Zealand Police guidelines for conducting strip searches. The police also have the power to carry out a “pat-down” search where they pat their hands over your body. When the police carry out these searches they must do it in a private area out of public view and any surveillance camera(s) or video monitoring systems. The New Zealand Police website can give you more information on how these searches are carried out. 


Rights After Arrest 

If the police think you have done something illegal, they may charge you with a crime. If you are charged, you:

  • Must be told what the charge is.
  • Must be allowed to talk to a lawyer.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, the government may help you with a funded legal aid lawyer. 
  • Must have a fair public hearing with a fair judge.
  • Are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

If you believe the police have conducted an illegal or unreasonable search then there are a number of options available to you. You can: 

  • Make a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.
  • Bring a civil court case for money (damages) under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.


Use of Force 

In an arrest, the police can only use force to a reasonable extent, for example, only as much force as is needed to overcome the resistance of the person being arrested.  If you believe the police used excessive force, you can make a criminal complaint to the police, or ask the police to conduct an internal investigation. You can complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority if you believe the police have mistreated you. They deal with any complaints against the police.


Being Questioned

In general, the police have no power to force you to give them information. However, the police may ask you for your name, address, or date of birth, and you must provide a truthful answer. If you are arrested, the police can ask for a photo of you and to record your fingerprints. They can take this evidence with your consent, if there is a court order, or if the police charge you with a crime for which you can be imprisoned. 

When you are being questioned, you always have a right to an interpreter. You also have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer before you say anything.  

 Make sure that the police explain your rights to you in a way that you can understand and ask for clarification if you do not. If you are giving a statement, ensure that either a lawyer or a nominated person is present. 


Legal Aid

If you are charged with a crime, you may be entitled to a government-funded lawyer under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act if you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer yourself. You may also be entitled to legal aid for family or civil matters.

If you get a legal aid lawyer the government will pay for the lawyer’s fees but you may have to repay some or all of your legal aid later on. Whether you have to repay anything will depend on your income, any property you own, and whether you received any money or property from the outcome of your case.

You can apply for legal aid as soon as you are charged with a crime. Applications can be made through the duty lawyer at the court or the criminal registrar at the court, or directly through a legal aid lawyer.

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