Sober safe centres
If you are intoxicated in a safe night precinct and behaving in a way that amounts to a public nuisance offence, or may pose a risk of physical harm to yourself or others, you may be taken to a sober safe centre by a police officer.
A sober safe centre is a place you can be kept and cared for until you are no longer intoxicated.
If you are taken to a sober safe centre, you may be liable to pay a cost recovery charge. You should get legal advice.
What is a sober safe centre?
A sober safe centre is a place that can be used for the temporary detention and care of an intoxicated person.
When can I be taken to a sober safe centre?
A police officer can take you to a sober safe centre if they reasonably suspect that you are:
- in safe night precinct, and
- behaving in a way that amounts to a public nuisance offence or may pose a risk of physical harm to yourself or others.
The police officer should explain to you that you are being taken to a sober safe centre and what will happen if you are admitted and how you may be released.
Being admitted at a sober safe centre
When you are taken to a sober safe centre you will be assessed by a health care professional who will assess whether you are intoxicated, or if there are any other health reasons why you shouldn’t be admitted.
The health care professional doesn’t need your consent to assess or treat you, and may use reasonable force necessary to assess or treat you.
The health care professional will make a recommendation to the centre manager who will decide whether or not to admit you. The manager must not admit you if they reasonably suspect that you are not intoxicated.
If you are admitted to a sober safe centre:
- you may be detained for up to 8 hours
- you and your belongings may be searched
- your belongings may be kept in custody while you are detained
- you will be required to pay a cost recovery charge.
What happens while I am at the sober safe centre?
If you are admitted to a sober safe centre, the manager must give you an opportunity to contact a responsible person to pick you up from the centre as soon as reasonably practicable after your admission. A responsible person is someone who is able to look after you (eg an adult relative or friend or a support worker).
While being held at the sober safe centre, your health and wellbeing must be regularly monitored. If at any time the health care professional reasonably believes that you require urgent medical treatment, they must arrange for you to be transported to an appropriate medical facility.
As soon as reasonably practicable after you have been at the centre for 4 hours you should be re-assessed by a health care professional. They will assess whether you are still intoxicated or if you can be released on your own or into the care of a responsible person.
The health care professional will then make a recommendation to the centre manager who will decide if you can be released.
The health care professional doesn’t need your consent to assess or treat you, and may use reasonable force necessary to assess, treat you or arrange for you to be transported to an appropriate medical facility.
When can I be released?
A centre manager can release you if:
- they reasonably suspect you are no longer intoxicated
- they have arranged for a responsible person to take you to a safe place
- a police officer requires you to be released into police custody for a lawful purpose, or
- you have been held for 8 hours.
A health care professional can release you from the centre if it is necessary to transport you to a medical facility for urgent medical treatment.
You should not be held at a sober safe centre longer than 8 hours.
Do I have to pay the cost of being detained at a sober safe centre?
If you are admitted to a sober safe centre you may be liable to pay a cost recovery charge.
If it’s the first time you have been admitted to a sober safe centre, the cost recovery charge will be $220 (2 penalty units at the time of publication).
If you’ve been previously admitted to a sober safe centre, the cost recovery charge will be $220 (2 penalty units) + $110 (1 penalty unit) for each previous admission. The maximum you can be charged per admission is $880 (or 8 penalty units).
You will have to pay the cost recovery charge regardless of how long you were held at the sober safe centre.
The centre manager must give you written notice of the cost recovery charge before you are released from the centre. It should state how much you have to pay and when it must be paid.
You have 28 days after the day you were admitted to centre to pay the cost recovery charge.
The centre manager may decide not to give you a notice for the charge if they reasonably suspect it would not be reasonable to recover the charge from you (eg if you are a tourist who is admitted to a sober safe centre who is intending to leave Australia the next day).
If you can’t pay the cost recovery charge, get legal advice.
Can I apply to have the cost recovery charge waived?
Yes. You can apply to the Commissioner of Police to waive the charge on the grounds that paying the charge would cause you financial hardship.
You must apply within 14 days after you receive the notice to pay the cost recovery charge.
The commissioner must decide whether or not to waive the cost recovery charge within 7 days after receiving your application. They should give you written notice of their decision as soon as reasonably practicable after the decision has been made.
You should get legal advice.
What happens if I don’t pay the cost recovery charge?
If you don’t pay the cost recovery charge within 28 days, the debt may be referred to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER).
SPER has wide powers to collect and enforce payment.
If you are unable to pay the charge, you can apply for:
- an instalment plan giving you time to pay the charge by instalments
- a Centrepay instalment plan allowing you to pay the charge in instalments from your Centrelink payment
- community service instead of paying the charge.
If you refuse to pay the charge, SPER can:
- suspend your driver’s licence
- direct your bank to transfer funds from your account to SPER
- direct your employer to deduct a certain amount from your wage each month
- register an interest over your property
- attach an immobilizing device to your vehicle
- seize and sell your property.
SPER can’t issue a warrant for your arrest and imprisonment for an unpaid cost recovery charge.
If you are unable to pay the cost recovery charge, get legal advice.
Do I need legal advice?
You may need legal advice if you
- want to apply to have a sober safe centre cost recovery order waived
- are unable to pay a sober safe centre cost recovery order
- are concerned about how you were treated at a sober safe centre
- have been charged with a criminal offence.
Get legal advice
Legal Aid Queensland may give legal advice about sober safe centres and drug and alcohol related offences. We can’t provide you with a lawyer to attend a police interview.
If you’ve suffered a personal injury because of someone else's actions, you should speak to a private solicitor who practises in this area of law as soon as possible, as strict time limits apply.
The following organisations may also be able to provide you with legal advice.
Community legal centres may give free preliminary legal advice and information on some criminal law matters. Most CLCs do not provide legal representation. Contact them to find out if they can help with your matter.
The Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor who can provide advice and representation.
Who else can help?
These organisations may also be able to help with your matter. They do not provide legal advice.
Department of Justice and Attorney-General has information about going to court to help defendants and witnesses.
Queensland Courts provides information on all courts in Queensland including magistrates court and Childrens court of Queensland and provides information about Court Diversion for a Minor Drug Offence.
Alcohol and Drug Information Service provides information, counselling and referral for anyone with concerns related to the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Drug Arm has a range of services including counselling, family assistance, family support, information and referral and an illicit drugs diversion initiative.
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 22 November 2022
If you have a general question for Legal Aid Queensland, please use the general question form or call 1300 65 11 88, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm.