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Criminal & traffic law

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

What you can do about an unreasonable or illegal search

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

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 21

A search will 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.

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 in this chapter, “Complaining about the police”.

You could also 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 a search was illegal or unreasonable, or both, and the police bring charges against you in court, the judge may decide not to allow the police to use anything they found in 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 the quality of the particular evidence the police want to bring to court and how important it is to their case against you.

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Police powers

Where to go for more support

Community Law


The Community Law website contains legal information, education, and law reform resources about the police. Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice about any issue relating to the police.

YouthLaw Aotearoa


Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com

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

“You and the police” (Law Society pamphlet)

This pamphlet has information about what to do when being questioned or arrested by the police. You can access the pamphlet online at:

You can also order hardcopies from:

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA)


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

The IPCA receives and investigates complaints against the police. A complaint form is available online.

Legal Aid


The Ministry of Justice website has a range of information about Legal Aid.

It also has information about the Police Detention Legal Assistance Scheme (free legal help when someone is being held, arrested or questioned by the police) – go to:

You can also order hard copies of Ministry of Justice pamphlets from:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz

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