The coronavirus pandemic is a frightening experience for people all over the world. It has put a lot of business and other activities on hold, while reports show more cases and deaths every day. Australia recently joined other countries in implementing a lockdown. This coronavirus lockdown order raised concerns regarding the misuse or abuse of police power. One example of the misuse of police power is illegal interrogations in the guise of a random breath test. Sydney lawyers have been receiving inquiries regarding this concern ever since the implementation of lockdown.

Although the pandemic and the lockdown has changed a lot of things in life, the police power remains the same in New South Wales. The NSW police did not gain any new police powers, not even for implementing the coronavirus lockdown rules and regulations.

Police Power During Lockdown

Contrary to the common misconception, the police do not have more authority during the lockdown. For as long as you know the rules of the lockdown and you know your rights, then you will be able to handle police encounters calmly and with ease. Here are some of the most common questions regarding police power during the pandemic: 

Are the Police Allowed to Stop You While You are Outside to Ask Why You Left Your Home?

Before the pandemic, the NSW Police does not have the authority to stop a person for questioning or interrogation– this has not changed. They may want to engage in small talk and ask where you are heading, but you have the rights to refuse to answer– just make sure that you still interact politely to avoid altercations.

Is a Hunch or a Suspicion an Acceptable Reason to Accuse Someone of Violating the Lockdown Regulations?

There are several legitimate reasons stated in Schedule 1 of the coronavirus lockdown Order that allows a person to leave their home. Since there are many valid reasons for an individual to go outside, it is simply not possible for a police officer to suspect that a person is violating the lockdown regulations based only on the fact that they are outside their house.

An individual may have left their house for groceries, work or to take care of someone vulnerable. The police need more than just the fact that you are outside before suspecting you of violating lockdown rules. So, no— a suspicion or a hunch is not an acceptable reason to accuse anyone of violating the lockdown rules.

What Questions From the Police Do You Absolutely Need to Answer?

You only have to answer two questions from the police: your name and address. Even if the police have reasonable reasons to suspect you as a violator of the coronavirus lockdown order, these are the only questions you are required to answer. You may refuse to answer any other questions that are not related to your name and address. 

Do You Still Have Right to Silence During the Coronavirus Lockdown?

Yes, your right to silence is one of the most fundamental rights– no one has the authority to deprive you of it. It is a right that is available to everyone. No matter the manner in which the police officers use to approach you, you have no obligation to provide any information apart from your name and address. You have the right to silence even if they are questioning you on the grounds of a suspicion that you are violating coronavirus lockdown Orders.

Keep in mind that this will not stop the police from asking questions, just be informed enough to know that you can refuse to answer– but remember not to be rude in the process. You have the rights to remain silent, and no police officer can direct you to do otherwise. The right to silence is a privilege that protects citizens against official oppression. Use it whenever applicable.

Is Your Silence an Acceptable Reason to Detain You?

No, the police cannot use your silence against you. As mentioned previously, the only police questions you have to answer are ones related to your name and address. You have the rights to refuse to answer any question about why you are outside your home. The police cannot detain you for not answering a question that they have no authority of requiring you to answer. 

Is It Necessary for You and your Sydney Lawyer to Prove in Court that You Have a Legitimate Reason for Leaving Home?

No, you do not need to prove your intentions for leaving the house to the court. The police are in charge of establishing that an individual is violating the coronavirus lockdown order. The onus of proof is always under the responsibility of the police. 

For instance, if a police officer asks you where you are going, and you refuse to answer, then they have no reason to issue you a fine. In the case that they do, you can settle the matter in court where you can contest the fine issued to you. However, it is not your responsibility to prove in court that you have not violated the lockdown rules. The police must justify the fine that they have given you. They can’t use your silence as an argument, as it still does not prove that you do not have a reasonable excuse for leaving home.

Does the Police Have the Authority to Issue You with a “Move On Direction”?

A move-on direction is when the police instruct an individual or group to move away from an area for a specified period. Even during the lockdown, the NSW police cannot give you a move-on direction if unless you are:

  • obstructing other citizens or traffic
  • harassing or intimidating another individual
  • threatening an individual or a group of person
  • supplying illegal items or services (like drugs)
  • planning to buy illicit items

If the conditions above do not apply to you, then the police do not have the power to issue you with a move-on direction.

Can You be Arrested for Violating the Coronavirus Lockdown Order?

There are only certain circumstances in which the NSW police are provided with the power to arrest an individual. These limited scenarios are stated in Section 99 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW). The most relevant and common reason for an arrest is a repeated offence– this means that the police have the power to arrest a person to prevent them from committing the same violation repeatedly.

However, the arrest should be made under reasonable suspicion– this means that there should be more than just a possibility of committing an offence.

For example, during the lockdown, all community facilities are not open to the public. If the police see a person sitting on the park grass, reading a book while eating a sandwich– then this person left the house with the intention to violate the lockdown order. It is reasonable for the police to issue a fine to this individual or leave the facilities.

Since the person has clearly violated the law, refusing to comply with the police officer’s instruction to leave the park would invoke the police power to arrest the person. Arresting the person here is reasonable as it is made to stop them from continuing to violate the coronavirus lockdown order.

You may think that getting arrested for reading a book and eating a sandwich in the park is extreme, understand that under the lockdown order– the arrest is justified if you refuse to comply after being instructed to leave. Keep in mind that despite the strict regulations, arresting a person should always be a last resort to the police.

What Should You Do If the Police Stop You with Respect to the Coronavirus Lockdown?

If the police stop you and start to question you about why you are outside or why you have left your home, here are some Sydney lawyer recommended steps to take:

  1. Let the police officer know that you would like to record your conversation using your smartphone. Please do so in a respectful manner. There is no need for you to shove your phone in the officer’s face. Being rude is not going to make the process easier for anyone.
  2. Ask for the officer’s identification. Make sure that you get details like their name, rank and station.
  3. Ask the police officer the reason for stopping you.
  4. Ask the police officer what gave them the idea that you are violating the lockdown regulations.
  5. Politely let them know that you do not wish to answer their questions and ask them if you may leave.
  6. Provide your name and address if they ask for it.
  7. If they ask any other questions, respectfully let them know that you would like to remain silent.
  8. If the police officer decides to issue a fine, do not argue. Take the ticket, get a Sydney lawyer, and contest the fine in court.

Remember to be decent and polite when dealing with a police encounter. Handling the situation in a rude way can get you in more trouble than calmly talking with the officer.

Conclusion

The coronavirus pandemic is genuinely a frightening time for everyone. However, the pandemic does not mean that the police can do whatever they want. If you know that you are not doing anything wrong, then there is no reason to be afraid of the authorities. However, you should also know when your rights are being stepped on. Get in touch with Sydney lawyers in case you need legal assistance.