Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Investigating criminal behaviour by students

For students

What rights do I have when being questioned by the police?

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 23

Anyone being questioned by the police has the right:

  • to remain silent
  • to a lawyer
  • to be told what their rights are.

Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989

Children and young people (under 17) also have extra rights:

  • A child (10 to 13 years old) or young person (14 to 16 years old) who wants to make a statement to the police has the right to a “nominated adult”. This means you can pick an adult of your choice as a support person. It doesn’t have to be your parent or caregiver.
  • You must be informed of your right to talk to a lawyer, in a way which you can understand. You’re allowed to speak with a lawyer and the adult you choose.

The same rights apply whether the police are questioning you at school or out of school.

Who can I choose as my “nominated adult”?

Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, s 222

You can choose any adult to support you if you’re being interviewed by the police. It could be, for example:

  • Your parent or guardian
  • An adult family/whānau member
  • A teacher (it’s best if it isn’t the staff member involved in the incident)
  • Any other adult of your choosing.

If you don’t nominate someone, the police can choose an adult for you. It can’t be a police officer.

What if I choose someone that the police officer thinks is unsuitable?

Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, s 222

Any adult you nominate must be allowed to support you, unless:

  • The police believe the adult may try to interfere with the investigation (for example, by helping you lie to the police)
  • They can’t be found or won’t be available within a reasonable amount of time.

What are my rights when school staff interview me about a crime?

Your rights in this situation aren’t covered by legislation, as they are when being interviewed by police. Generally, a school’s duties are about education and safety at school. The school shouldn’t question you about things that happen outside of school, unless they directly affect the school or your education.

If school staff have a reason to interview you about criminal activity happening at school, you have the following rights:

Principles of natural justice

The school should:

  • Act in good faith, without bias. This means they should be fair.
  • Give you a chance to tell your side of the story
  • Tell you what they’re accusing you of and give you time to get a defence ready.

United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child, article 40

You have the right:

  • To be presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • To be told what you’re accused of
  • To have your parents or guardians with you
  • To have legal or other appropriate help
  • Not to made to give a statement or confess guilt
  • To have your privacy fully respected at all stages of the interview.

This means that before questioning you, your school should:

  • Tell you what you are being questioned about or accused of
  • Ask you if you would like to have your parent, guardian, or another adult to with you. If you don’t want your parent there, you could ask for the guidance counsellor or another teacher.

If you feel a teacher or principal was overbearing or forced you into anything, you should tell another adult. This might mean the interview was unfair, and the information they got might not be able to be used against you.

Can I be made to sign a statement or confession?

No. You can’t be made to sign a statement, and if the school asks you to, you should think about it carefully.

Sometimes the school might ask you to sign a statement confessing or accusing another student of an offence. Questioning students shouldn’t involve written statements or confessions. But if the school does ask you to sign something, you should talk to your parents or another adult and consider:

  • The purpose of the document and why you’re being asked to sign it
  • Whether the document is going to be used in evidence.

It’s unlikely that a statement could be used as evidence in court, unless all the legal safeguards had been followed.

If the school plans to use the statement for another purpose (like a board of trustees disciplinary meeting) the principles of natural justice and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must be followed (see above).

Any staff member that asks you to sign a statement should:

  • Explain that you don’t have to sign
  • Explain where and how the statement might be used
  • Suggest that you get legal advice before signing.

You should never be forced to sign something by threats of what will happen if you don’t.

You and your parents should feel free to discuss any concerns with the staff involved, the principal and the police.

For parents and caregivers

I have been chosen as a “nominated adult” – what is my role?

Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, s 222

Your role is to:

  • Do your best to make sure the child or young person understands what the police officer tells them, including their rights
  • Support the child or young person before and during questioning
  • Support them during a statement, if they agree to make one.

You aren’t just there to observe, but to help and advise the child or young person. You should meet with them privately before the police interview starts, to:

  • Gain their confidence
  • Understand how they communicate
  • Make sure they understand their rights and what is going to happen during the interview
  • Learn what they want to say during the interview.

It’s a good idea to encourage the young person to get some legal advice as soon as possible, and to make sure they get it. It’s unlikely that they will know a lawyer, so they should be given the names of some lawyers who they could talk to over the phone or in person. The questioning police officer should be able to give you a list.

During the police interview, you should provide support. You should make sure the young person understands the questions, can answer them as they want to, and is understood properly. Your role is to make sure they are not disadvantaged.

Does the school need to let me know that my child is being questioned by the police at school?

Education Act 1989, s 77(b)

The law is unclear on this. However, it is important to remember that schools must inform parents of matters which, in the principal’s opinion, are affecting students’ progress or harming their relationship with other students.

Note: the law is clear when questioning occurs at a police station. The police must let parents or guardians know when a young person is being questioned at a police station, even if the young person nominates someone else as a support person. You have the right to visit them and talk to them privately.

Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, s 229

What if my child says, “I don’t want my parents to be contacted”?

If the student is at a police station and under 17 years old, the police must inform their parents or guardians. If the student is 17 or over, the police do not have to do this.

At school, whether parents are contacted will be up to the school policy, however, it is the school’s duty to inform parents of matters which, in the principal’s opinion, are affecting students’ progress or harming their relationship with other students.

What is the school’s role if the police are questioning my child at school?

The school’s role is not clearly defined by legislation. If a teacher attends the interview as a young person’s “nominated adult” supporter, they have the duties set out above. If the teacher is not the student’s nominated adult, the teacher has no automatic right to be there. They can be there only if police and the student both consent.

For young people, the consequences of admitting guilt, or getting a conviction, can be very serious. Schools should stress the student’s right to consult a lawyer, and help them to take advantage of this right. Teachers should also be aware of the young person’s right to silence, and make sure that the student is not pressured to respond.

What policy should schools have about police questioning at school?

If the school has a policy, it should cover:

  • contacting parents or guardians when a student is under 17
  • contacting parents or guardians when a student is 17 or over
  • student rights under the CYPF Act (for those under 17), to have someone other than a parent (for example, a teacher) present as a nominated adult
  • providing a school representative to observe an interview when the student is 17 or over.

The policy should be written clearly, and should be supplied to all students, parents and caregivers.

It would also be sensible for the school to discuss the policy with the police to ensure police support and cooperation.

What if Child, Youth and Family wants to interview my child at school?

Child, Youth and Family may interview children at school without parents or guardians present. Children can ask for another adult to be present during the interview.