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Criminal & traffic law

Search powers: When the police can search you, your home or your things


There are important restrictions on when the police can search your home, your car, your bags and other things, and you personally. They can only do it if they have your permission (“consent”) or if they have a specific legal power, either because they’ve got a warrant (written authority) from a judge or it’s a situation where an Act of Parliament gives them the power to do it without a warrant.

Even if you agree to the search, the search may still be illegal if the police went outside their powers. New Zealand’s Bill of Rights also protects people from unreasonable search and seizure. Whether a search is unreasonable will depend on all the circumstances surrounding the search and the way it was carried out.

What can I do if the police conduct an illegal or unreasonable search?

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 21

If you think a police search of you, your home or your things was illegal or unreasonable, you can:

  • complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (see: “Complaining about the police”), or
  • bring a civil court case for money (“damages”) under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act – for example, to get the police to pay for the cost of any damage they caused to your things.

If the police bring charges against you in court, they might not be able to use anything they found during the search as evidence against you. The judge will take into account:

  • what the police did and how serious it was,
  • how serious the charges against you are, and
  • how important the evidence is to the police’s case against you.

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Police powers

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

YouthLaw Aotearoa

YouthLaw provides free legal advice for young people throughout New Zealand. Their website provides great information for young people about the law.

Website: www.youthlaw.co.nz
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com
Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)

New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on your rights when dealing with the police.

Website: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/you-and-the-police

Independent Police Conduct Authority

The Independent Police Conduct Authority website has information about how the Authority receives and investigates complaints about the Police.

Website: www.ipca.govt.nz
Email: info@ipca.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 503 728

To make a complaint online: complaints.ipca.govt.nz/195

Police Detention Legal Assistance (PDLA)

Under the PDLA scheme, you can talk to a lawyer for free if you’ve been arrested. The service is provided for free, 24/7.

Email: legalaidprovider@justice.govt.nz
Phone: 04 918 8800

For more information: www.justice.govt.nz/about/lawyers-and-service-providers/legal-aid-lawyers/pdla

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