If you're not under arrest you can do a runner from police, Judge rules. Picture: Thinkstock Supplied
IF the police ask to have a quiet word with you, it's OK to do a runner, a Supreme Court judge confirmed yesterday.
Justice Stephen Kaye said that a man who bolted when police wanted to speak to him about an unpaid restaurant bill was entitled to make himself scarce, leaving the officers trailing in his wake.
After the judge ruled, the man at the centre of the test case was in no doubt of its importance.
"This decision does for Australian civil liberties what Mabo did for native title,'' Andrew Hamilton declared.
The 25-year-old Sydneysider said he was so drunk he couldn't remember why he ran. But when he sobered up, he knew his rights.
"At no point did they say I was under arrest,'' he said. "I hadn't committed a crime . . . I ran because I was just a drunken boor.''
Justice Kaye said it was an ancient principle of the common law that a person not under arrest has no obligation to stop for police, or answer their questions. And there is no statute that removes that right.
"(Mr Hamilton) before being placed under arrest did not have any obligation to stop when requested to do so, or to answer questions asked of him,'' the judge said.
"The conferring of such a power on a police officer would be a substantial detraction from the fundamental freedoms which have been guaranteed to the citizen by the common law for centuries.''
The judge dismissed a Director of Public Prosecutions appeal against a magistrate's dismissal of a charge of resisting police.
Mr Hamilton said he was amazed that after the chase began, police in a car and on foot took 600m to catch him.
"I play rugby. I'm a winger, but I'm not a particularly good runner,'' he said. "I never thought I'd make it that far when I'm being chased by a car.
"I don't know why I ran. At the time I was pretty heavily intoxicated . . . it was just lucky I didn't get run over or shot.''
Mr Hamilton said he spent $9000 fighting the case; but Justice Kaye made a costs order in his favour.
It was established after the incident Mr Hamilton was not responsible for the restaurant bill.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay last night said it was too early to act on the decision.
"We'll go through the judgment vary carefully, then we'll decide what we need to do,'' he said.