This question comes from a Queensland based paramedic:
I’m curious about a paramedic’s right to forcibly enter a home in order to render aid. Is this something that paramedics are legally allowed to do?
Here’s a simple scenario: Paramedics respond to a private residence because family members cannot get their elderly mother to answer the phone and want the paramedics to check in on her. Paramedics arrive without Police or Fire on scene, and, looking through the window of the front door, they see the patient has collapsed and is not responding to them knocking. They try all the windows and doors but there is no way to gain entry without breaking in. I know most paramedics probably would forcibly enter the home, and they’d probably have the thought in the back of their mind that they could reasonably defend their actions in court, if they were required to do so. However, I do wonder – are they legally allowed to do so?
I was discussing this with a (Canadian) friend who worked with the Police there for years and he said “I’ve always had the opinion that Paramedics should have warrant cards for situations like that” and he explained that in Commonwealth countries a warrant card is simply something that allows a normal citizen to legally do specific (and limited) things that citizens aren’t normally allowed to do – like breaking down your front door and entering your house without permission.
Can we break people’s doors down legally if it is required? If not, would the issuance of a warrant card be a reasonable solution? I’m curious what your take on this is.
With respect to the issue of forcing entry to provide treatment see:
- Paramedics forcing entry to premises (March 25, 2014);
- Forcing entry to perform a rescue (November 13, 2014); and
- Getting children out of locked cars (February 23, 2016).
The answer is clear enough, paramedics do have authority to force entry in the circumstances described.
As for the issue of a ‘warrant card’ that is a different matter. The term ‘warrant card’ is shorthand for a police officer’s official ID (see that great source of information, Wikipedia, Warrant Card). Whilst the term is used in some legislation (eg State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) s 61E ‘Police officer to produce warrant card if required’) it is not defined.
Whatever a warrant card is, it is NOT “something that allows a normal citizen to legally do specific (and limited) things that citizens aren’t normally allowed to do – like breaking down your front door and entering your house without permission”. No-one, not the Commissioner of Police, not the Minister, not the Premier nor the Prime Minister, Governor, Governor-General or even the Queen can simply exempt someone from the operation of the law.
Permission to do something which is otherwise illegal is a ‘licence’ (Federal Commissioner of Taxation v United Aircraft Corporation (1943) 68 CLR 525). For someone to give ‘licence’ to someone else there needs to be lawful authority. For example under the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) “An officer of a rural fire brigade or group of rural fire brigades may enter any premises for the purpose of exercising any function conferred or imposed on the officer by or under this Act” (s 23) and may in some circumstances, use reasonable force for the purpose of gaining entry (s 31). However, a person can only exercise those powers if they are:
… in possession of an authority and produces the authority if required to do so by the owner or occupier of the premises.
(2) The authority must be a written authority that:
(a) states that it is issued under this Act, and
(b) gives the name of the person to whom it is issued, and
(c) describes the nature of the powers conferred and the source of the powers, and
(d) states the date (if any) on which it expires, and
(e) describes the kind of premises to which the power extends, and
(f) bears the signature of the Commissioner.
In effect they must be in possession of what my correspondent has described as a ‘warrant card’ however the power to authorise the officer and to issue the relevant written authority comes from the Act. It is not some ‘at large’ power vested in the Commissioner or anyone else to simply grant a citizen licence – or permission – to break the law.
So, in short, the issue of a ‘warrant card’, as described by my correspondent, is neither possible or lawful and nor would it help. Whether it’s signed by the Commissioner or the Governor a card given to a paramedic saying this paramedic is allowed to force entry into premises means nothing unless there is an Act that allows them to grant that authority. It so happens that in Queensland there is such an Act. The Ambulance Service Act 1991 (Qld) s 38 says
An authorised officer, in providing ambulance services, may take any reasonable measures
(a) to protect persons from any danger or potential danger associated with an emergency situation; and
(b) to protect persons trapped in a vehicle, receptacle, vessel or otherwise endangered…
(2) Without limiting the measures that may be taken for a purpose specified in subsection (1)(a) or (b), an authorised officer may, for that purpose—
(a) enter any premises, vehicle or vessel …
(e) destroy (wholly or partially) or damage any premises, vehicle, vessel or receptacle…
An authorised officer is an officer authorised by the Commissioner to exercise the powers set out in s 38 (see s 37). The Commissioner could arrange to issue some form of ID (or ‘warrant card’) to confirm that a particular paramedic is ‘authorised’ but the Act does not require that. The only time when a card might help is on the ground if the paramedic is seeking to exercise their power and someone questions their right to do so.
Can we break people’s doors down legally if it is required?
Yes – and the authority of ‘authorised officer’ comes from both the common law (discussed in the earlier posts) and the Ambulance Service Act 1991 (Qld).
If not, would the issuance of a warrant card be a reasonable solution?
Only if a relevant Act authorised the issue of a card or ID and said that effect that had, for example Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 31. No such card is required for an authorised ambulance officer in Queensland.