August 3, 2017


Have you ever been questioned by the police? Whether you’ve been arrested or the police are just gathering information, it can be difficult to know what questions you are legally required to answer and when you have a right to remain silent. Being in a pressured situation doesn’t help either. Knowing your legal rights can really help you to navigate your way through these difficult situations.

Police questions and the right to remain silent

Right to remain silent

The right to remain silent (or the right to silence) is in essence the right to refuse to answer police questions or to give information. It is one of the hallmarks of the criminal justice system.

Everyone has the right to remain silent when arrested or when being spoken to police, if police suspect that they have committed an offence.

But even though it is a fundamental right, there are some important exceptions in which a person has a legal obligation to provide the police with information.

Here at Websters Lawyers, we often give advice about the police’s powers to question and the right to remain silent. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers.

Do I have to give the police my name and address?

If a police officer reasonably suspects that you have been involved in a criminal offence, they may ask you for your personal details which may include:

  • Full name.
  • Date of birth.
  • Residential address.
  • Address where you usually live (if different from residential address).
  • Business address.

It is a criminal offence to:

  • Fail to answer these questions.
  • Provide false or misleading answers.

If you’re not sure of your rights, you can ask the police whether you are legally obliged to answer their questions.

If they charge you with an offence and there is an issue about how you answered their questions, a lawyer can review the interview and provide you with advice about the admissibility of your answers.

“Admissibility” means whether the answers are allowed into evidence in a court case. If they are admissible, it means that the judge (or other decision maker) can take them into account when reaching a decision or verdict.

What if the police don’t have the right to ask the question?

In order to legally ask you questions, the police must have a reasonable cause to suspect that you:

  • Are involved in an offence, or
  • Have possession of a firearm or ammunition, or
  • Have occupied premises where a firearm was located.

They may also ask questions to identify a driver or owner of a vehicle at a particular time.

Police are not required to tell you why you are under suspicion. Even so, it can really help to clarify your rights if you:

  • Get legal advice prior to participating in a police interview.
  • Have your lawyer speak with the police before the interview.

Once you are charged, a criminal lawyer can review a copy of the interview and the brief of evidence. This allows the lawyer to advise you about whether the interview was legally conducted. In some cases, a lawyer may be able have the interview declared inadmissible on the grounds that it wasn’t legally conducted.

Can police ask me for identification? 

If police have reasonable cause to suspect that you have given them false information about your personal details, they may require you to show identification to prove that your details are correct.

Can I ask the police officer for their name?

In situations that do not concern firearms offences, you can ask a police officer for their name if they have asked for your personal details. They must either:

  • Show you their police identification, or
  • Tell you their surname, rank and identification number.

Can I always refuse to answer questions?

No, you cannot always refuse to answer questions.

In addition to the above, police may also ask questions that may help identify a person who was driving, or who was the owner of, a vehicle on a particular occasion or at a particular time.

Failing to answer these questions, or providing false or misleading answers, is a criminal offence.

If police reasonably suspect a person of a firearms offence, they may require a person to:

  • Give their full name, address and age;
  • State whether they are the owner of a firearm or ammunition and, if not, to provide the name of the owner of the firearm or ammunition.

Failing to answer these questions, or providing false or misleading answers, is a criminal offence.

How a lawyer can help

At law, a record of interview may show that you declined to answer questions that you were not legally required to answer. This doesn’t mean that you are guilty of any offence and no one is allowed to assume that you are guilty.

However, it’s also important to remember that you should seek the advice of a criminal lawyer before deciding whether to give away your right to remain silent. That is, you should not agree to answer questions that you are not legally required to answer.

If you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence, or are concerned about information that you may have already given to police, the first thing you should do is discuss the issue with an experienced criminal or traffic lawyer. Websters Lawyers has an outstanding team of criminal and traffic lawyers. Contact us today for a free first interview.