Police Powers During COVID-19

Police Powers COVID-19

While the severity of the global COVID-19 pandemic appears to be subsiding in Australia, at least, the changes to how we live and some of our laws are expected to remain for quite some time yet.

In Queensland, police have been given additional emergency powers in addition to their usual powers in order to enforce the special public health directions announced by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer (CHO) under the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld) (‘Public Health Act’).

These directions include the ability of police to restrict the movement of people, restrict access to public spaces, and if necessary, shut down businesses.

Many police enforcement powers provide for officers to use their discretion, particularly where people affected by the COVID-19-related rules seek to be excepted because they have a “reasonable excuse” (such as the need to travel to care for a family member, for example).

The combination of police discretion and someone with a reasonable excuse can prove problematic. Police can be over-zealous in enforcing the emergency rules, or misintepret a person’s reasons for not complying with them. Consulting a legal professional may be required if you feel you have been dealt with unfairly as a result of the special public health rules introduced to combat the pandemic.

More detail on police powers

The amendments to the Public Health Act allow police (and some other emergency workers) to:

  • Require a person to remain isolated in a place such as their home, or a hotel room or a hospital.
  • Enter private property to save human life; prevent or minimise serious adverse effects on human health; or do anything else to relieve suffering or distress.
  • If they enter private property for that purpose, police may also search the property and inspect and remove items.
  • Require a person to provide their name and address, and answer questions relevant to the public health emergency.

In the case that police issue their own direction to a specific person, they must give that person a chance to comply first before they consider a fine. A fine should only be issued if a person refuses to comply when directed to by police. Those who claim a reasonable excuse for breaching a CHO directive might still be questioned by police, but should not be fined.

Police are not obligated to provide a warning when enforcing a CHO direction because the direction itself has been made public. If a person misleads police, by lying about what they are doing or obstructing police in their duties, for instance, additional charges may apply.

What to do if you receive an infringement notice

Because the public health directives from the CHO are being constantly changed and updated as the course of the pandemic proceeds, there can be public confusion when it comes to compliance.

If you receive an infringement notice claiming you have breached a directive of the CHO, you have 28 days to challenge the notice by electing to have the matter determined in court. While information about how to do this is included on the notice itself, it’s advisable to consult with a law firm experienced in this area such as Hannay Lawyers before taking this course of action.

We can help clarify the best way to respond to the notice or, alternatively, help you ask police to review the decision on issuing an infringement notice. In some cases it can be shown that the notice will have an adverse affect on your ability to conduct your life normally, or that you did have a genuine and reasonable excuse for breaching the rules.

If you find yourself interacting with Queensland Police regarding breaching the special COVID-19 rules, contact our Gold Coast criminal lawyers today for a free evaluation of your case on (07) 3063 9799.