Last updated 21 December 2016
Section 790 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) (PPR Act) provides that any person who assaults or obstructs a police officer in the performance of the officer’s duties is liable to a maximum fine of $4400 or six months imprisonment.
The offence under s 790 normally arises when a person is being arrested for another offence. Therefore, a charge under this section is usually coupled with another charge. A person may still be convicted of this offence even if the other charge is dismissed, as long as the arresting police officer had reasonable grounds for believing that the other offence had in fact been committed (Veivers v Roberts; ex parte Veivers  Qd R 226). However, when the main charge is dismissed, a close investigation of the circumstances of the arrest and the reason for obstructing the police officer must be made. In circumstances where the police officer was acting unlawfully or unreasonably, there may be grounds for the citizen to sue the police officer involved. Additionally, the unlawfulness of the conduct of police may have made the obstruction lawful and reasonable, so a person may successfully have the charge dismissed.
For assault, police can proceed under s 790 of the PPR Act, which is a summary offence, or s 340 or other provisions of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) (Criminal Code) such as grievous bodily harm, which are indictable offences (for classification of offences and procedure flowing from the classification of summary or indictable, see the Introduction to Criminal Law chapter). The charge depends on the seriousness of the assault and the nature of the injuries received by the police officer. Charges under the Criminal Code are usually only laid when physical injuries are sustained or in cases involving spitting at or biting a police officer. In such circumstances, the concern that a disease may be transmitted and the availability of criminal compensation where a conviction has been recorded in a higher court dictates the police policy in ensuring such actions are tried on indictment rather than summarily.
‘Obstruct’ means to hinder, resist or attempt to obstruct. These terms have consistently been interpreted broadly to mean anything that makes the police officer’s job more difficult. Hindering police is not limited to just physical obstruction. For example, someone who gives false information to police investigating a matter would be guilty of the offence.
As outlined above where a person obstructs police in relation to a public nuisance offence, police have the additional option, at their discretion, to issue an infringement notice rather than commence a prosecution (i.e. going to court).
Resisting arrest, unlike obstructing police, is restricted to physical resistance. The mere failure to comply with a lawful request of a police officer or to argue about compliance does not constitute an offence. Pulling away from a police officer’s grasp, refusing to move or going limp are examples of actions that would constitute resisting arrest.