Being held in police custody

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    If you’ve been arrested and taken to the police station, you may be held in custody in the watch-house.

    If you’ve been charged with an offence and the police won’t give you bail, they must take you to court as soon as reasonably possible. You can apply to the court for bail.

    If you’ve been charged with an offence and you’re going to court, you should get legal advice.

    If you’re taken to court directly from the watch-house, you may be able to get help from the duty lawyer.

    Police powers at the watch-house

    Once you’re in custody, the police have the power to:

    • search you and your belongings
    • take property from you (if they do, they must give you a receipt)
    • take your identifying particulars including palm prints, fingerprints, handwriting samples, voice-prints, footprints, photos of scars or tattoos and body measurements (except for some minor offences).
    • take DNA samples for more serious offences.
    • let you go:
      • without charging you
      • if you’re 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.
      • after giving you a Notice to appear.
      • in court on a future date.
    • keep you in custody until you go to court (where you can apply for bail).

    Receiving visitors or a change of clothes

    Generally, you won’t be allowed visitors, except for a lawyer. Someone can drop off a change of clothes for you—if the watch-house keeper agrees. If you’re moved to a remand centre you may have visitors during visiting hours. You won’t be able to access your prescribed medication until you’re assessed by a government medical officer who can authorise medication.

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

    Without charge

    If you’re being held for questioning about an indictable offence, the police can hold you for up to 8 hours, but they can only question you for up to 4 hours. See being arrested.

    With charge

    If you've been charged with an offence and the police won't give you bail, they must take you to court as soon as reasonably possible.

    When you go to court, you can:

    • plead guilty and have your matter finalised, or
    • apply to the court for bail (If you don't want to plead guilty or your case has to go to a higher court).

    If the court gives you bail, you can leave once you’ve signed your bail undertaking.

    If the court doesn't give you bail, you'll be returned to custody until your next court date. First, you’ll be taken back to the watch-house, and then you’ll be taken 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 be held in a remand centre for much longer. Get legal advice.

    Do I need legal advice?

    You may need legal advice if:

    How to get legal advice

    We may give legal advice about being held in police custody.

    If you’ve been charged with a serious offence, you should apply for legal aid (if you’re eligible), or find a private lawyer, rather than wait for a legal advice booking.

    The following services may be able to give you legal help and advice.

    Community legal centres give free legal advice and information on criminal law. Contact them to find out if they can help.

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

    Who else can help?

    These organisations may be able to help with your matter. They don’t give legal advice.

    Queensland Police Service Headquarters investigates complaints about police misconduct and breaches of discipline. The internal complaints process is monitored by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

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

    Queensland Courts provides information about the:

    • Supreme Court
    • Court of Appeal
    • District Court
    • Magistrates Court
    • Coroners Court
    • Childrens Court of Queensland
    • Land Court.

    Disclaimer: This content is for general purposes only and not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, please contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.

    Last updated 6 April 2023