Activist Rights

When can the police use force?

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The police are only entitled to use “reasonable force” and may only use force when it is lawfully justified. The police use of force may be unlawful if it is found to be “excessive”.

Section 462A of the Crimes Act1958 (Vic) provides as follows:

“462A. A person may use such force not disproportionate to the objective as he believes on reasonable grounds to be necessary to prevent the commission, continuance or completion of an indictable offence or to effect or assist in effecting the lawful arrest of a person committing or suspected of committing any offence.”

This section is relevant to all members of the public (including Victoria Police members).

Sections 459 and 459A of the Crimes Act1958 (Vic) also confer special powers of arrest, entry and search upon members of the Victoria Police which are more extensive than the powers of ordinary members of the public and, in particular, the powers of arrest conferred upon members of the public by section 458 of that Act.

Police use of force is often justified under the common law principle that police have a duty to prevent a breach or a threatened ”breach of the peace”.

Ultimately, what constitutes “reasonable force” is decided by the courts when police action is challenged.

The use of force on a crowds involves many, unresolved legal issues. For example, lawyers argue that it is unlawful for police to us OC spray or other weapons on non-violent protesters and yet police regularly use these types of force against non-violent protesters and even bystanders. Police complaints on these issues are routinely found to be ‘unsubstantiated’ by police investigators – and IBAC generally refuses to resolve them. We encourage people in these circumstances to consider civil action in assault and battery against the police.

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