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Watch-house procedure 

Legal Information

I've been arrested and taken to a police station. What happens now?

There's usually a watch-house at a police station.

Police have the power to:

  • search you and your clothes, bag etc
  • take property from you. If they do, they are supposed to give you a receipt.
  • take your fingerprints and photographs (although not for some minor offences, but for other minor offences, for example under the Summary Offences Act 2005, they can). These must be destroyed within a reasonable time if you go to court and are found not guilty (with some exceptions).
  • take DNA samples for more serious offences. As with fingerprints, these must be destroyed within a reasonable time if you go to court and are found not guilty (with some exceptions).
  • let you go:
    • without charging you or giving you a court date
    • if you are not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, they may decide to detain you in custody until you surrender your passport
    • after you're charged and you sign a bail undertaking to go to court on a future date
    • for cash bail. You pay an amount and you're given a court date the next day, but if you don't go to court you just don't get back the money you paid and no conviction is recorded
    • after giving you a notice to appear in court on a future date.
  • not give you bail and keep you locked up until you go to court (you can then apply for bail).

Police don't have the power to make you go in a 'line up' (an identification parade) or generally to make you give a handwriting sample.

I'm worried about giving a DNA sample. What do I need to know?

You could be asked to give a DNA sample even if you're not suspected of breaking the law. Sometimes, for example if you're charged with a serious offence, the police have power to get a DNA sample from you even if you don't agree.

A DNA sample may be taken by an authorised police officer, a doctor or a nurse by making you use a mouth swab or by collecting hair from you.

There is a Queensland data base and a Commonwealth data base where DNA results can be kept. Generally, your DNA sample and results get destroyed within a reasonable time if:

  • your arrest/charge for which the sample was taken doesn't continue
  • you're found not guilty at your trial or your appeal.

Your DNA sample will not be destroyed if:

  • you're being investigated or charged with another indictable offence
  • you're found unfit for trial because you have a mental illness.

If you're asked to give a DNA sample and you don't want to, ask a lawyer for legal advice about the whole DNA process.

I'm in the watch-house. Can I have visitors, a change of clothes?

It's up to the watch-house keeper. Probably you won't be allowed visitors except a lawyer. Your visitors can leave a change of clothes for giving to you.

How long can I be kept in the watch-house?

If you're in the watch-house and the police won't give you bail, you have to be taken to court at the earliest possible time. When you go to court you can:

  • for many things plead guilty and have your matter finished. Then you can go.
  • if you don't want to plead guilty, or your case has to go to a higher court, apply to the court for bail. If the court gives you bail you can leave (after you sign your bail undertaking).

If when you go to court you apply for bail but the court doesn't give you bail, you'll go back to jail (first back to the watch-house, and then to a remand centre) until your next court date. You usually won't stay in the watch-house for more than a few days (but you may stay in a remand centre for much longer).

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Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you

  • have been charged with an offence or received a Notice to Appear and are going to court
  • have been asked to give a DNA sample and you don't want to do it.
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Where can I get legal advice

Legal Aid Queensland may give legal advice about watch-house procedure.

If you have been charged with a serious offence or have an urgent matter, we may suggest that you apply for a grant of legal aid if you are eligible, or that you seek private representation, rather than wait for a legal advice booking.  

The following services may also be able to provide you with legal advice and assistance.

Community legal centres many CLCs provide free legal advice and information on criminal law. Check with them to see if they can help with your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor for advice or representation on criminal law matters.

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Who else can help?

These organisations may also be able to help with your matter. They do not provide legal advice.

Queensland Police Service Headquarters investigate complaints about police misconduct and breaches of discipline. Internal complaints process is monitored by the Crime and Misconduct Commision.

Crime and Corruption Commission investigates complaints about official misconduct, even where the original complaint has been made to Queensland Police. Monitors police internal complaints process and can take over investigations if necessary, but does not handle complaints about police misconduct directly.

Queensland courts provide information for people going to court (defendants and witnesses) and general information about the different types of courts in Queensland, eg Magistrates, District, Supreme, Court of Appeal, Mental Health Court, Childrens court, Coroners court, and more.

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Disclaimer - Copyright © 1997 Legal Aid Queensland. This content is provided as an information source only and is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer. Legal Aid Queensland believes the information is accurate as at 1 July 2007 but accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions and denies all liability for any expenses, losses, damages and costs you might incur due to the information being inaccurate or incomplete in any way.

Last modified: 12 March 2015 4:40PM
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Watch-house procedure