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Searches and confiscations

If you are under 25 and you are unsure about your rights or responsibilities or what to do next, you can get free, confidential legal advice at Lawmail.


This page explains the law about school searches and confiscations at public schools in the Australian Capital Territory.

Can a teacher search me or my stuff?

Generally, teachers can only search you or your stuff if they have your permission or if they think the safety of others is urgently at risk (for example stop someone being hurt or if they think you have something dangerous on you).  Searching you is always a last resort and only used in serious cases.
If the teacher wants to search you in non-urgent situations, for example if they think you have something banned (but not dangerous), they can ask to search you, but you don’t have to agree.  It’s your right to refuse, but you may be disciplined, for example with a detention (or even suspension).  Also, the school can always call the police who can search you without your permission.

Can a teacher search my bag, desk or locker?

Teachers can search your locker or desk without your permission because these things are generally considered school property.  A teacher can search your bag with your permission or if they think there is an urgent risk to the safety of other students.    You should check your school rules for more details about what the school can and can’t do.

What things can my school ban?

Banned things are usually listed in your school rules. You can ask for a copy of the rules if you don’t have them.

Can my parents give permission for a teacher to search me?

You decide for yourself whether a teacher can search you. Your parents can only give permission on your behalf if you are so young that you cannot make your own decisions.

Can a teacher search me for drugs?

No. The only people who have special powers to search for drugs are the police. This means that if a teacher wants to search your property for drugs, you can refuse. They cannot order or force you to agree to a search.   However they can call the police to search you if they believe you possess drugs. The police are able to search you for drugs and any object that may have been illegally gained.

If you are found with objects against the law on you, don’t panic. You do not have to go with the police unless you are arrested. If you are arrested, you can phone your parents or an adult you trust and ask them to come to the station.  Do not make a statement to the police until a trusted adult arrives and never attempt to run away from the police or give a false name.

Can a teacher confiscate my stuff?

Generally, if you own something, it is against the law for anyone to take it away from you without your permission. However, schools can make rules regarding what you can and cannot bring to school, for example to prevent disruption to class.   

Generally, you don’t have to hand something over to the teacher, but if they ask and you refuse, you’re probably going to be disciplined for disobeying school rules (like having the banned item in the first place). Your can ask your school for a copy of the rules and see what they say.  

Also, your school can confiscate anything without your permission if it’s dangerous or which poses an immediate threat to the safety of other students.

Something of mine has been confiscated – when can I get it back?

There’s no law about how long teachers can confiscate your item for, but it should be returned within a reasonable time.  You should check your school rules to see what they say about how long things can be confiscated for.  If the thing is illegal, then the school may give it to the police, and then it’s up to the police when you get it back. If the thing is illegal for under 18s to have, like alcohol, the school may give it to your parents instead of you.

The school also has a duty to keep things safe if they confiscate them.  This means they should return them to you in the same condition as when they were taken from you.

This page was last updated 9 March 2015.