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Your rights during police questioning

What rights do I have when being questioned by the police?

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 23. 

Anyone being questioned by the police has the right to:

  • remain silent
  • a lawyer
  • be told what their rights are.

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, ss 221, 215

If you are under 17, you also have extra rights:

  • If your age is between 10 to 16 years old and you want to make a statement to the police, you have the right to a “nominated adult”. This means you can pick an adult of your choice as a support person. It doesn’t have to be your parent or caregiver.
  • The police must tell you that you have the right to talk to a lawyer, and make sure you can understand what they’re saying. You’re allowed to speak to a lawyer and the adult you choose.

The same rights apply whether the police are questioning you at school or out of school.

Who can I choose as my “nominated adult”?

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, s 222.

You can choose any adult to support you if you’re being interviewed by the police. It could be, for example:

  • your parent or guardian
  • an adult whānau member
  • a teacher (it’s best if it isn’t the staff member involved in the incident), or
  • any other adult you choose.

If you don’t choose someone, the police can choose an adult for you. It can’t be a police officer.

Can the police officer stop someone from being by “nominated adult”?

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, s 222

Only in some situations. Any adult you nominate must be allowed to support you, unless:

  • the police believe the adult may try to interfere with the investigation (for example, by helping you lie to the police), or
  • they can’t be found or won’t be available within a reasonable amount of time.

What are my rights if school staff talk to me about a crime?

United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child, article 40

Your rights in this situation aren’t covered by legislation (like they are if you’re being questioned by police).

The school shouldn’t question you about things that happen outside of school unless they directly affect the school or your education.

If school staff have a reason to interview you about something happening at school that might be a crime, you have rights based on natural justice.

The school should be fair (act in good faith, without bias), give you a chance to tell your side of the story, tell you what they’re accusing you of and give you time to respond.

You have the right to:

  • be presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • be told what you’re accused of
  • have a parent or guardian with you
  • have legal or other appropriate help
  • not give a statement or confess guilt
  • have your privacy fully respected at all stages of the interview.

This means that before questioning you, your school should:

  • tell you what you are being questioned about or accused of, and
  • ask you if you would like to have your parent, guardian, or another adult to with you. If you don’t want your parent or guardian there, you could ask for the guidance counsellor or another teacher.

If you feel a teacher or principal was overbearing or forced you into anything, you should tell another adult. This might mean the interview was unfair, and the information they got might not be able to be used.

Can I be made to sign a statement or confession by the school?

You can’t be made to sign a statement or confession, and if the school asks you to, you should think about it carefully.

Schools sometimes ask students to sign a statement confessing or accusing another student of something that might be a crime. Questioning students should not involve written statements or confessions. But if the school does ask you to sign something, you should talk to your parents, guardians or another adult before signing it. You could think about:

  • the purpose of the document and why you’re being asked to sign it
  • whether the document is going to be used in evidence.

It’s unlikely that a statement could be used as evidence in court, unless all the legal safeguards had been followed.

If the school plans to use the statement for another purpose (like a school board disciplinary meeting) the principles of natural justice must be followed. For more information, see the chapter “Natural Justice”

Any staff member that asks you to sign a statement should:

  • explain that you don’t have to sign
  • explain where and how the statement might be used
  • suggest that you get legal advice before signing.

You should never be forced or threatened to sign something.

You and your whānau should feel free to discuss any concerns with the staff involved, the principal and the police.

Information For parents and whānau

I have been chosen as a “nominated adult” – what is my role?

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, s 222

A nominated adult is chosen by a young person to support them when being interviewed by the police. If you’ve been nominated but you’re not the parent, the young person’s parents’ or guardians’ will be contacted (if they’re under 17 years old).

Your role is to:

  • Do your best to make sure the child or young person understands what the police officer tells them, including their rights
  • Support the child or young person before and during questioning – make sure they’re calm, well fed, and aren’t distracted
  • Support them during a statement (if they agree to make one).

You aren’t just there to observe, but to support and advise the child or young person. You should meet with them privately before the police interview starts, to:

  • gain their confidence
  • understand how they communicate
  • make sure they understand their rights and what is going to happen during the interview
  • learn what they want to say during the interview.

Encourage the young person to get some legal advice as soon as possible, and to make sure they get it. It’s unlikely that they will know a lawyer, so they should be given the names of some lawyers who they could talk to over the phone or in person. The questioning police officer should be able to give you a list.

During the police interview, you should provide support. You should make sure the young person understands the questions, can answer them as they want to, and is understood properly. Your role is to make sure they are not disadvantaged.

Does the school need to let me know that my child is being questioned by the police at school?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 103I

The law is unclear on this. However, it is important to remember that the school must tell you about things which, in the principal’s opinion, are affecting your child’s progress or harming their relationship with other students.

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, s 229.

The law is clear when questioning occurs at a police station. The police must let parents or guardians know when someone under the age of 17 is being questioned at a police station, even if the young person nominates someone else as a support person. You have the right to visit them and talk to them privately.

What if my child says, “I don’t want my parents to be contacted”?

If your child is at a police station and under 17 years old, the police must tell you (guardians). If the student is 17 or over, the police do not have to do this.

At school, whether parents or guardians are contacted will be up to the school policy. The school does have to tell parents or guardians about things that are affecting a students’ progress or harming their relationship with other students.

What is the school’s role if the police are questioning my child at school?

The school’s role is not clearly defined in legislation. If a teacher attends the interview as a young person’s “nominated adult” supporter, they have the duties set out above. If the teacher is not the student’s nominated adult, the teacher has no automatic right to be there. They can be there only if the police, you and your child all consent.

For young people, the consequences of admitting guilt, or getting a conviction, can be very serious. Schools should stress the student’s right to talk to a lawyer and help them access this right. Teachers should also be aware of the young person’s right to silence, and make sure that the student is not pressured to respond.

What rules should a school have about police questioning at school?

If the school has a policy, it should cover:

  • when the school will contact parents or guardians if the police are involved,
  • student rights under the Oranga Tamariki Act (for those under 17), to have someone (for example, a teacher) present as a “nominated adult”
  • providing a school representative to sit in on an interview when the student is older than 17.

The policy should be written clearly, and should be given to all students, parents and guardians.

It would also be sensible for the school to discuss the policy with the police to ensure police support and cooperation.

Can Oranga Tamariki ask my child questions at school?

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, s 15

Yes. Oranga Tamariki (OT) can talk to children at school without a parent or guardian being there. Children can ask for an adult to be present during the interview as part of an OT investigation or assessment.

Anyone can contact OT if they think a child has been harmed, abused or neglected. Schools should have a process for reporting these concerns and information about what situations they would involve OT.

Usually, the school will contact you if your child is having problems at school or if the police are involved. The school does not have to tell parents or guardians that OT is talking to a student if the parent or guardian is the person accused of causing harm or if the child has asked the school or OT not to tell them.

For more information, see the section “Dealing with Oranga Tamariki” in the Community Law Manual

End of Chapter

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