In Queensland, it is a criminal offence to assault or obstruct a police officer in the performance of the officer’s duties. The offence is found in section 790 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 and carries a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment or, when committed in or near a licensed premises, 12 months imprisonment.

This offence is less serious than the equivalent charge of ‘serious assault’ under the Criminal Code 1899.

What do the prosecution have to prove?

For the charge to be made out, Police must prove the following ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’:

  1. That the police officer was either obstructed or assaulted;
  2. While the officer was carrying out their duties.

The section also provides that obstructing a police dog or police horse under the control of a police officer in the performance of their duties will be treated as obstructing the officer.

What does it mean to assault a police officer?

The meaning of ‘assault’ under this section is the same as under the Criminal Code, as it would apply to common assault or assault occasioning bodily harm. In summary, an assault is where a person:

  • Strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise applies force of any kind to another person, directly or indirectly without the person’s consent; or
  • Attempts or threatens to apply force of any kind to another person without their consent and where there is an actual or apparent present ability to carry it out;

Due to the broad definition of assault in Queensland, offences of assaulting police can be in many different forms, such as:

  • Pushing or hitting a police officer;
  • Spitting on police;
  • Making threats of violence towards police;
  • Gesturing aggressively towards police, even without verbal threats.

Importantly, an individual may use proportionate force to resist or defend themselves against an unlawful arrest.

What does it mean to obstruct a police officer?

Obstruct means to hinder, resist or attempt to obstruct. This most commonly applies were a person refuses to comply with a police officer’s lawful direction. Typical examples include:

  • Resisting a lawful arrest;
  • Interfering with an arrest of another person;
  • Running from police;
  • Attempting to prevent police’s lawful entry to a house or motor vehicle.

However, standards apply in determining what level of obstruction is required for an offence to be committed. The test often applied is whether the obstruction or interference made the officer’s duty ‘substantially more difficult.’

What are the usual penalties?

In usual circumstances, the maximum penalty for assaulting or obstructing police is 6 months imprisonment. However, the majority of offences under section 790 result in fines. Realistically, more serious examples of assaulting police are charged as ‘serious assault’ under the Criminal Code.

Period of imprisonment are usually only imposed where an offender has a substantial criminal history or the offence was committed while subject to Court orders.

What negotiations can be made?

Assaulting or obstructing police is probably the most common offence where the versions differ between police and the person charged.

It is standard procedure for all police interactions to be recorded. Where there are disputes about what happened or questions about whether police acted lawfully, it is sensible to request disclosure of all available recordings from police.

Bear in mind that arguments about whether police were acting lawfully are often complex. Seeking advice and representation through an experienced criminal lawyer is always appropriate.

One way of resolving obstruction offences without a trial is to negotiate the offence down to a charge under section 791 of ‘contravening a direction or requirement of a police officer’. This offence is less serious than obstruction and cannot result in a punishment greater than a fine.

What Courts can the offence be heard in?

The offence of assault or obstruct police must be heard summarily, in the Magistrates Court.