Cooperating with Police


Get informed about cooperating with police in Queensland

Suspects in police investigations are often faced with a choice as to whether to cooperate with the police to any degree. Cooperation with law enforcement agencies can take many forms. For example, it may be minimal and do little to assist the investigation or can involve extensive cooperation or ‘a deal’ that results in a significantly lighter sentence.

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Cooperating with Police

Anderson Legal provides advice to people facing police investigations who may wish to cooperate with the police.

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Cooperating with Police

Anderson Legal provides advice to people facing police investigations who may wish to cooperate with the police.

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Cooperating with Police in Queensland

The decision to cooperate with police is significant for anyone facing an allegation or criminal charge.
This section deals with the following:
Criminal Defence Image

Cooperating with Police in Queensland

The decision to cooperate with police is significant for anyone facing an allegation or criminal charge.
This section deals with the following:
Criminal Defence Image

Cooperating with Police in Queensland

The reality of cooperating with police is that for a suspect, it is a decision akin to walking through a one-way door. In life, some decisions can be undone and the consequences stopped. However, generally, when a person cooperates with the police, they are stuck with the results of that cooperation. There is no two-way door for them to walk back through and undo the consequences.

For many people suspected of involvement in an offence, the first interaction they may have will be with a police officer asking if they wish to ‘voluntarily’ take part in an interview. At this point, even if informed of their legal rights, it is not uncommon for people to simply waive their rights without giving much thought to it and simply proceed with an interview hoping for the best. It can reflect a desire to appear compliant with police and not be seen to be a ‘troublemaker’ or having ‘something to hide’. Experience shows that in many cases, individuals come to regret their initial interactions with police, particularly when inexperience, fear, anxiety and other pressures prevent their side of the story from being properly advanced or explained. In some situations, the unfairness can be so great that a police interview can be ruled inadmissible by a court.

Cooperation implies voluntariness, even if sometimes a person accused of a crime feels little choice about the matter. Cooperation that occurs because of threats, promises or inducements by police may result in any evidence obtained being ruled inadmissible by a court. In Queensland, section 10 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1894 (Qld) – a law that is approaching 130 years old – remains in force to guard against involuntariness. It states:

No confession which is tendered in evidence on any criminal proceedings shall be received which has been induced by any threat or promise by some person in authority, and every confession made after any such threat or promise shall be deemed to have been induced thereby unless the contrary be shown.

For a person suspected of committing a criminal offence, there are possible risks and benefits to cooperating with a police investigation. Understanding these potential risks and benefits, as well as the various ways a person may cooperate with police, can help a person judge what may be in their best interests.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ advice that can be given to a police suspect about whether or not to exercise the right to silence or to cooperate with police. For that reason, any person facing the prospect of police investigation ought to obtain specific advice from an experienced criminal lawyer.

Benefits of cooperating with police

The law is structured to create some benefits

Cooperation by a suspect with the police may have the benefit of reducing the resources required to successfully prosecute the case. It will also likely lead to reduced time in court, which is another benefit of cooperation with the criminal justice system. In return for such cooperation, defendants are often given lighter sentences than they would have otherwise received in absence of their cooperation (assuming they would have been convicted of the same offence).

In Queensland, there are a number of laws that create benefits for an accused person who has cooperated with the police. This includes:

  • In sentencing hearings in Queensland, the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) requires a court to consider a range of factors relevant to the punishment to be imposed. Included in those factors is the requirement for a court to consider “how much assistance the offender gave to law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offence or other offences”.
  • Section 13A of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) outlines the process for when a sentence is reduced by a sentencing court because the defendant has undertaken to cooperate with police or another law enforcement agency.
  • Section 13B of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) outlines the process for when a sentence is reduced by a sentencing court because the defendant has significantly cooperated with police or another law enforcement agency. Simply admitting guilt for an offence does not count as significant cooperation.

The above three examples all relate to a sentencing proceeding, indicating the law creates incentives for defendants to confess to their offending early. Additional benefits, generally in the form of lighter penalties, may be ordered for defendants who significantly cooperate, such as by implicating others and undertaking to testify against them if necessary.

Use of information consistent with innocence

Prosecutors have significant duties to ensure fairness to an accused person facing a criminal charge. In Queensland, the Director of Public Prosecutions issues ‘Director’s Guidelines’ under section 11 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1984 (Qld). It sets out guidelines that apply to prosecutors and to police. It includes a guideline about exculpatory information:

If a prosecutor knows of a person who can give evidence that may be exculpatory, but forms the view on reasonable grounds that the person is not credible, the prosecutor is not obliged to call that witness (see Guideline 39). The prosecutor must however disclose to the defence:-

(a) the person’s statement, if there is one, or

(b) the nature of the information:-

  • the identity of the person who possesses it; and
  • when known, the whereabouts of the person.

These details should be disclosed in good time.

The Crown, if requested by the defence, should subpoena the person.

The above is consistent with the responsibility of police officers in paragraph 3.8.1 of the Operations Procedures Manual of the Queensland Police Service:

When preparing a brief of evidence, arresting officers are to ensure all admissible and relevant information, including information which might be considered advantageous to the defence case, is compiled and provided to the relevant prosecution corps to allow for full disclosure.

Having regard to the above obligations on police and prosecutors, it may be seen as beneficial to some police suspects to ensure that the investigation obtains statements from certain witnesses, or uncovers certain information. This is in addition to any version of events that the accused person themselves may give. There are occasions, however, when there is good reason not to disclose certain information to the police. Every decision of this kind must be considered on a case by case basis having regard to the particular circumstances.

When an accused person gives a wholly exculpatory account to police, there is a chance that the prosecution may not be required to play it during a trial in Queensland. That means that an accused person may answer each and every question put to them by police, provide an account wholly consistent with innocence, yet the trial court would not know about it. For many people, this seems unfair and reduces the incentive to give a ‘version’ of events to the police if it is going to be wholly exculpatory.

In the High Court case of Nguyen v The Queen [2020] HCA 23, it was unanimously held by the Court that a prosecutor must tender the interview of a suspect if it contains a mixture of potentially inculpatory and exculpatory statements, unless there is good reason not to do so. The Court was critical of the notion that a prosecutor may not tender the interview of an accused person during a trial merely for some tactical advantage. This decision strengthens the expectation on prosecutors that they will tender such records in the trial of an accused person who has cooperated by answering the questions of investigating police officers.

Risks of cooperating with police

Unintended consequences

There are many potential risks for a police suspect who cooperates with the police. While an accused person may have a plan or motive regarding their cooperation, there are sometimes unintended consequences that follow from cooperation.

One consequence can be that the person ends up confessing more than the police were aware of or could otherwise prove. From the point of view of the justice system, it is no bad thing for a person to be brought to justice for offences they have committed. However, some people may regret unwittingly placing themselves in a worse position.

In some cases, a person ‘agrees’ to be interviewed by police in the belief that they may be able to talk themselves out of the situation. The inability to go back and check records to aid memory, nerves, stress, and desire to please the investigators can all combine to stop people from putting their best foot forward. Answers may be incomplete or even wrong. Concessions may be made in an effort to appear reasonable, not because the person actually thinks it. In some cases, even innocent people can panic and tell untruths, which, if disproven, can significantly damage their prospects of successfully defending a charge.

The potential unintended consequences mean that individuals facing the decision to cooperate with police should think carefully about their motives, the risks and benefits. In all cases, it is advisable to take the opportunity generally given to police suspects to telephone a lawyer of their choice to get advice about their legal rights and options.

Personal risks when informing on others

It is well-known that individuals who become police informants, or who otherwise agree to cooperate with police and give evidence against co-offenders, may face threats and reprisals. The risks some people fear is associated with cooperation is sometimes sufficient to deter them from doing so. In response, the law gives potentially substantial discounts in penalties in an effort to create a wedge in criminal syndicates. It was noted in the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in R v Sukkar (2006) 172 A Crim R 151 (a case that has been referred to in the Queensland Court of Appeal) at page 167:

While there is no fixed tariff for assistance to the authorities, discounts customarily ranged between 20 percent and 50 percent. There have been comparatively rare cases where a discount in the order of 55 percent or 60 percent has been given. Generally speaking however, a discount of 50 percent is regarded as appropriate to assistance of a very high order. No doubt, that is in part a reflection of the principle that a discount for assistance must not produce a result which is disproportionate to the objective gravity of a particular offence and the circumstances of a particular offender.

While in some cases a person may place themselves in danger by informing on others, often courts expect evidence to be adduced to justify the alleged risk created by the cooperation with the police. In some cases, police themselves may be willing to provide such evidence to a court.

Anybody considering cooperating with police by undertaking to give evidence against other offenders ought to consult with an independent, experienced criminal lawyer prior to making any decision.

Dealing with police as a suspect is often a daunting, unfamiliar situation for many people. Knowing your rights, such as the right to silence, and getting expert advice about your options can make a real difference.

Although based in Brisbane, Anderson Legal is frequently engaged to defend people facing criminal allegations across Queensland. If you are dealing with a criminal law issue and need advice and representation, particularly in relation to decisions during police investigations, Anderson Legal provides comprehensive criminal defence services to its clients. This includes:

  • providing advice relating to allegations made or documents served on our clients;
  • identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the case alleged against our clients;
  • advising clients on options relating to obtaining evidence, including expert evidence;
  • communicating on behalf of its clients with police, courts, and others;
  • resolving, where appropriate, criminal charges through negotiation;
  • applying to courts for orders and rulings, including to exclude police evidence;
  • representing clients in trials and sentences before all courts; and,
  • filing and litigating appeals against wrongful convictions and unjust sentences.

This firm places an emphasis on providing clear guidance so that our clients are placed in a real position to make informed decisions about their options and their preferred path forward. Anderson Legal provides clear, transparent disclosure of its legal costs at every stage.

  • Andrew Anderson, Legal Director, is an experienced lawyer who has been independently described by the Courier Mail as “one of the best legal minds” and a “leading corporate and white-collar crime lawyer” (16 December 2021).
  • Having successfully represented litigants in the High Court of Australia, Queensland Court of Appeal, Royal Commissions, and multiple other courts dealing with trials and other hearings, Andrew Anderson has a demonstrated record of success in complex and difficult cases.
  • Prior to operating a law firm, Andrew Anderson worked as a Principal Crown Prosecutor in Queensland and barrister in private practice at 8 Petrie Terrace Chambers in Brisbane. His depth of courtroom advocacy experience ranges from straightforward cases right through to complex homicide trials and appeals.
  • Anderson Legal is a law firm that is dedicated to the best ideals of the legal profession. Seeking to exceed client expectations and fighting for justice is an everyday pursuit.

Limitations on general information

Each legal issue is unique. The information on this page and website cannot – and is not meant to – substitute legal consultation. It is designed to outline information of a general nature if you want to learn more about cooperating with police, particularly as it relates to anybody facing an issue of this kind in Queensland. Anybody dealing with a police or other investigation ought to obtain expert legal advice and guidance as soon as possible.

No content accessible on the website is created to provide specific legal answers or advice. It is designed to provide general information about legal matters and related concepts. It should not be used as, or in substitute of, your own legal advice or other advice as appropriate.

To the extent allowed by law, no warranty, condition, or guarantee is provided in relation to the accuracy or reliability of any information contained on this site. Content may be changed from time to time without notice.

If you face an investigation or charge and need advice and representation, contact Anderson Legal. This firm provides expert advice and representation for people needing assistance to defend themselves against unjust accusations.

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