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Security Guards

1    What powers does a security guard have?
2    Can a security guard search me?   
3    Can they arrest me?   
4    Can a security guard kick me out of a shopping centre or a shop?   
5    Can I be banned from a shopping centre or a shop?   
6    What should I do if I think a security guard has done the wrong thing?


1    What powers does a security guard have?

You may have to deal with security guards or bouncers at shopping centres, concerts, nightclubs, pubs or anytime you want to go onto someone else’s property. Security guards usually work for the owner of a shop or nightclub, or the organiser of a concert. 

Security guards and bouncers are not police officers, and they do not have the same powers as the police. A bouncer is really just a security guard employed by a licensed venue like a pub or club.

Security guards and bouncers in the Northern Territory are required by law to obtain a licence.
Security guards are hired by property owners to do things like:
•    Protecting or guarding property, or keeping it under surveillance,
•    Preventing, detecting or investigating crimes in relation to a property,
•    Controlling crowds.

A security guard is required to wear a form of identification that makes it clear that they’re working for the owner of a property. This should include an identification number that is readable.


2    Can a security guard search me?

A security guard or bouncer cannot search you without your permission. However, many places (including shops, shopping centres, pubs and clubs) might have owners’ rules requiring you to consent to searches. If you don’t consent then you might be refused entry or asked to leave.


3    Can they arrest me?

A security guard or bouncer can arrest you if they find you in the middle of committing an offence.

A security guard or bouncer can also arrest you if you have just committed an offence, but only on certain conditions. The guard or bouncer must have reasonable grounds to believe that you committed the offence, and the arrest must be necessary for the safety of others, to preserve public order or to ensure that you appear before a court.

Even if you did nothing wrong and the security guard / bouncer made a mistake, the arrest is still lawful if they believed on reasonable grounds that you had committed an offence. But once it becomes clear that you did not commit the offence for which you were arrested, you must be released immediately by the security guard or bouncer.

Normally, a security guard or bouncer making an arrest must tell you that you are under arrest and must also state the reason for the arrest. This is so that you know why you’re being arrested. But there is no technical or precise language that the guard needs to use to do this.

What happens after you are arrested?

A security guard or bouncer who arrests you is not allowed to question you about the offence. Questioning while in custody is only allowed by a police officer.

A security guard or bouncer who arrests you must deliver you to a police officer as soon as possible.

If a citizen’s arrest has been done properly, it will be a lawful use of force, and the arrested person is not allowed to resist. But a lawful citizen’s arrest could become unlawful if excessive force was used by the bouncer or security guard.

If you feel that a security guard or bouncer arrested you unlawfully, contact a lawyer.

What if you witness a crime?

If you think you have witnessed a crime occurring, you should contact the police. It is not a good idea to make a citizen’s arrest yourself.

Even if you are only trying to help, arresting someone without a good reason can leave you facing charges of your own and it can be dangerous.


4    Can a security guard kick me out of a shopping centre or a shop?

A security guard can ask you to leave, if you fail to do so, you’ll be guilty of trespassing. They are allowed to use reasonable force to remove you from the premises if you ignore.

The owners of licensed premises can face heavy penalties for letting underage people onto their property, or serving them alcohol. You can expect to be refused entry if you can’t prove you’re 18 or older.
If a bouncer reasonably suspects you’re trying to use a fake id – they are able to confiscate it.


5    Can I be banned from a shopping centre or a shop?

There are no laws about banning a customer from a shop, so there is no limit on how long a ban can last, how the ban can be issued, or the reasons for banning someone. This means a manager of a shop or shopping centre can ban a customer for all kinds of reasons, including if they believe a customer has been rude or disruptive.

However, shops are not allowed to discriminate against customers based on certain characteristics, including age.

If you’re received a banning notice, please send us a Lawmail and we can give you more information on what your options are.


6    What should I do if I think a security guard has done the wrong thing?

If you have a problem with a security guard, it’s a good idea to:
•    ask them for their full name and identification number (you can save it in your notes on your phone),
•    write down anything you remember about the situation, including dates, times and what you did and what they said,
•    take pictures on your phone of any injuries that happen to you.

If you believe a security guard or bouncer has wrongly arrested or detained you, you might, in some cases, be able to sue them for assaults or false imprisonment.

You can also make a complaint to the Director-General if you believe a security guard or bouncer has done the wrong thing. You can call them on (08) 8999 1800 or visit: https://nt.gov.au/industry/licences/licensing-nt-contacts


NCYLC would like to express thanks to the law clerks and volunteers who assisted with the preparation of this material: Rahul Arora, Ed Slattery, Sebastian Hanscomb, Jaspreet Nagra.

This page was last updated in January 2017.