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Fingerprints for Commonwealth offences

Information about the law about taking fingerprints under Commonwealth law.

The law that deals with fingerprints at Commonwealth law is grouped under the broader definition of 'identification material'. Identification material includes prints of fingers, toes, hands or feet and also voice recording, photographs, video footage and sampling person's handwriting.

See s. 3ZJ—Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

Taking prints from an adult in custody

A police constable who is:

  • in charge of a police station, or
  • has rank of sergeant or above

may take prints or ask some other person to take prints from a person who is in lawful custody if police have reasonable grounds to believe that it is necessary to:

  • establish the person's identity
  • identify a suspect as the person who has committed the offence—or some other offence
  • provide evidence relating to an offence.

Police may use reasonable force in the circumstances to take prints.

See s. 3ZJ(3)—Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

Person not under arrest

Police may not take prints from person who is not under arrest unless that person agrees in writing, unless this is ordered by a magistrate.

See Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

When fingerprints must be destroyed

Fingerprints can be destroyed 12 months after the prints were taken if criminal proceedings have not proceeded or have been dropped.

Where the person is found:

  • not guilty or
  • found guilty but no conviction is recorded

the prints must be destroyed as soon as practical after the end of the appeal period unless that person:

  • is being investigated for another offence, or
  • or is awaiting trial for another offence that relates to the fingerprints.

Note: A magistrate may order an extension of time for keeping prints if satisfied that there are special reasons for doing this.

More than one extension may be granted.

See s. 3ZK—Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

More information


Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)

  • s. 3F—what can be authorised by a search warrant
  • s. 3ZJ—taking fingerprints, recordings, samples of handwriting or photographs
  • s. 3ZK—destruction of identification material
  • s. 3ZL—creates offence of refusing to allow prints to be taken when ordered by a magistrate
  • s. 3ZQG—if order is made, court must keep written records and make sure that print procedure and person's rights have been explained by investigating official

See Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).


Fox Fingerprints: Federal (p144) has useful summary of law dealing with fingerprint procedure at commonwealth law.