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Personal Searches in the Northern Territory

Personal searches in the Northern Territory can generally only be conducted after police have obtained a search warrant.  There are, however, certain situations where the law allows police to conduct a personal search without a search warrant. The powers of police to conduct personal searches are outlined in the Police Administration Act (NT).

NT police can search a person, their property or a place if a search warrant is granted by a Justice of the Peace.  A search warrant may be granted if the police can show that they have reasonable grounds for believing that something related to an offence may be found by the search.

A warrant is not required for NT police to lawfully conduct a personal search if the circumstances are serious and urgent enough to require an immediate search.  In particular, the police may immediately search you if they have a reasonable belief that you are carrying an offensive weapon, a dangerous drug, precursor or drug manufacturing equipment.

A reasonable belief will be established if a police detection dog indicates that it has detected the smell of a dangerous drug or if an electronic drug detection system indicates the presence of a dangerous drug.

The police can also search a person who has been taken into lawful custody. Obstructing a lawful personal search is an offence.

The police may use reasonable and necessary force when conducting a search, which includes being able to detain you for as long as reasonably required for the search to take place.  If you are a female, the search must be done by another female.

If you have been taken into lawful custody the police may search you and your clothing. They may seize objects that could be used to cause injury, assist escape, or that is related to an offence.

NT police may not require you to remove any clothing unless they have reasonable grounds for believing that such a search may provide evidence of an offence and they provide adequate clothing to replace whatever is removed.  Any search of a person in lawful custody should be done by a police officer of the same sex.

Non-intimate procedure personal searches in the Northern Territory

If the police reasonably suspect that you have committed a serious offence, or you are in lawful custody and have been charged with a serious offence, they can carry out a ‘non-intimate’ personal search on you.

This type of search must be approved by either yourself in writing or a police officer holding the rank of at least Senior Sergeant.  A non-intimate personal search includes things like taking a saliva or hair sample, taking a sample by buccal swab, taking a fingerprint and examining or photographing non-intimate parts of the body.

The exception to this is an identifying non-intimate search which is where essentially photographs and hand or foot prints are taken which may be ordered by a police officer in charge of a police station.

Intimate procedure personal searches in the Northern Territory

If you are in custody the police can also arrange for an ‘intimate procedure’ search to be conducted by a doctor or dentist if police have a reasonable belief this may provide evidence relating to an offence. This type of personal search in the Northern Territory can only be carried out if you approve in writing or a Local Court judge approves.

Intimate procedure searches can include an internal or external examination of the body, taking samples from intimate areas including a blood or urine sample. It may also include taking photographs of intimate areas or taking an x-ray.  You have the right to have a doctor or dentist of your own choice present during the procedure and after the search you must be provided with a copy of any resulting medical report if you request it.

Can a child be searched?

A person under 18 years can be searched but there are additional protections set out in the Youth Justice Act (NT).  Before searching a young person, the police must tell them that they are able to access legal advice and representation.

A young person may not be searched without a support person being present, unless the police believe that the search is urgent and that any delay would risk either harm to somebody or the loss of evidence.  If the search is urgent and conducted without a support person, it must be done in a way that best preserves the dignity of the young person.

The search must be conducted by a person of the same gender and in a way that provides privacy from persons of the other gender.  The young person cannot be required to remove any clothing during the search, unless the police have reasonable grounds for believing the clothing may provide evidence of an offence and they provide adequate clothing to replace whatever is removed.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela is a Legal Practice Director at Go To Court Lawyers. She holds a Juris Doctor, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master of Criminology. She was admitted to practice in 2006. Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. 

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