Director Craig Pratt and Associate Sarah Ford, of Gilshenan & Luton Legal Practice, discuss what schools should do in the event that police approach them for assistance. Remember, it is the legal right of any organisation or individual to seek legal advice and, there are privacy and confidentiality obligations owed to students and employees, they write.
Police requests for assistance from schools are on the rise, especially since the advent and prevalence of social media.
A school’s initial contact with police is very important. It can have significant ramifications for the persons involved, as well as potential implications for the school’s reputation and its exposure to legal liability.
Why would the police need to approach our school?
There are several reasons why the police may contact or attend your school, including:
1. An allegation of a criminal nature has been made against one of your students; or
2. An allegation of a criminal nature has been made against one of your employees; or
3. The police are undertaking a criminal investigation and they consider that one of your students or employees has information relevant to their investigation (for example, they may be a potential witness); or
4. The police are undertaking a criminal investigation and they consider that the school is in possession of evidence relevant to an investigation
What should our school do in these situations?
If your school finds itself in any of the situations referred to above, we recommend adhering to the following six points:
1. Remember that any conversation might be recorded.
2. First establish who the police wish to speak to or what it is they are looking for.
3. If the person police wish to speak to or obtain evidence from is present at the school that day, organise for any contact with the police to be done in a private environment where possible (for example, an office or a meeting room). This will ensure privacy for the person involved.
4. If the police wish to speak to a person:
- If the person is an employee, or a student aged 18, offer to provide a support person and to contact anybody on their behalf who they may wish to speak to (for example, a friend, relative, or lawyer).
- If the person is a teacher, consider contacting the teacher’s union to obtain advice and enquire as to whether legal assistance is available for the employee.
- If the person is a student, and under 18, confirm that the police are happy for the school to contact the student’s parents. If this request is declined, and the police are removing the student from the school’s premises (for example, to take them to a police station), ensure the school obtains as much information as possible such as the names, ranks, and contact details of the police officers involved, and the station they are taking the student to.
5. If the police are searching for evidence:
- Establish whether they have a search warrant.
- If they do, read the warrant carefully, and retain a copy of it. Where you have no immediate concerns about the legality of the warrant, cooperate and assist the police. If you have any concerns, contact a lawyer.
- If there is no warrant, and:
- The police wish to search property of the school, seek legal advice. Remember that without a warrant/court order, the school may not have to comply. The school should advise police that they intend to obtain legal advice and will contact the police thereafter.
- The police wish to search personal property of a student or employee, remember that without a warrant/court order, the employee or student does not have to comply. Voluntary compliance will be a matter for the individual involved in that situation. The school cannot insist on that person’s compliance.
6. Remain conscious that other students or employees who may have information or evidence relevant to police may be contacted by police in future, and potentially be called to give evidence in court proceedings.
Is there anything else we should remember?
Your school should also bear in mind the following when having contact with police:
- It is the legal right of any organisation or individual to seek legal advice.
- Employees and students involved in police matters may require welfare support.
- There are privacy and confidentiality obligations owed to students and employees.
- Where there is potential for media exposure, ensure it is carefully managed.
- There may be future commentary (positive and negative) about the school’s handling of the matter by the persons involved, the police and the courts.
- You may need to consider internal or external disciplinary investigation/action.
- It is important to maintain detailed records about any contact with police (though be aware that these records may be subject to future summonses/subpoenas/warrants etc).
We understand that interacting with police can often be an intimidating and daunting experience. It is hoped that this article offers some guidance to your school community, and we invite you to contact us if you have any queries, or if we can be of any assistance.
Director Craig Pratt has been practising in criminal and administrative law for many years. Prior to this he practised in family law, dispute resolution (including regulatory prosecutions), and as the legal advisor to the Australian Medical Association (Qld). In 2012 Craig was acknowledged as an accredited specialist in criminal law. He advises and represents clients in all facets of criminal law, including both defence and prosecutorial work. He represents clients with respect to sexual offences, serious driving offences, assault and domestic violence matters and in coronial inquests, commissions of inquiry and administrative law. Craig also acts in CCC investigations into professional misconduct and criminal matters. He has vast experience in acting for police officers, health professionals and others in regulatory and disciplinary proceedings in QCAT and other tribunals. Craig is a member of the Queensland Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee. Contact Craig at email@example.com or connect via LinkedIn.
Associate Sarah Ford has practised as a legal practitioner since mid-2013, when she joined Gilshenan & Luton. She previously worked as a Judge’s Associate and for Legal Aid Queensland and the CCC.
Sarah represents both private clients and regulatory agencies, in defence and prosecution work. In the criminal defence arena, Sarah handles a wide variety of matters, including traffic, drug, domestic violence and assault offences. She also acts for clients facing disciplinary allegations and charges relating to their employment. Sarah has had articles published on a variety of topics including private prosecutions and summary complaints and particulars. Sarah is a member of the Queensland Law Society’s Occupational Discipline Working Group. Contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect via LinkedIn.
You can also connect with Gilshenan & Luton via LinkedIn
 Unless, for example, there is an emergent situation concerning the preservation of life or evidence
 As above or in circumstances where police form a reasonable suspicion and act immediately.
 This includes in-house publications such as newsletters, social media platforms, and external media sources.