Occupiers’ Liability

Occupiers’ liability in tort law means the duty of care that the occupant owes to visitors.  In Criminal Law in Queensland, occupiers’ liability means that the occupant can be charged with an offence if illicit substances are found on the premises.  This article explains occupiers’ liability in Queensland Criminal Law.

Can I be charged for possessing drugs in my house that I didn’t know about?

Under the Drugs Misuse Act an ‘occupier of a place’  is automatically deemed to be in possession of drugs found on their premises. Unless they can prove that they did not know the drugs were there or that they had no reason to suspect drugs would be there.

How am I in possession if I didn’t know they were there?

To prove you have ‘possession’ of something at law you must have BOTH knowledge of the thing, and control of it. As an ‘occupier of a place’ you are deemed to have knowledge and control of  any illicit substance that may be found in a place.  This means the law says you are in possession by default.

For example – If drugs are found in your house, you may be charged with possession on the basis that you are assumed by law to have known they were there and you had control over them. This presumption can be argued, however, you will be required to prove that you couldn’t have known the drugs were present.

What is a Place?

A place is defined in broad terms.  It includes vehicles, storage sheds, an office, business premises and any other place you have some personal involvement in controlling or managing.

What is an occupier? Can there be more than one?

The definition of what constitutes an occupier is also very broad. It includes any owners, lessee and any other person who is in charge of a place. The definition also can extend to people who care, manage and supervise the place. Or anyone who conducts business at the place. This includes any person who  would typically reside at a property at any given time.

To be defined as an occupier you do not need to be there when the drugs were found. One premises may have a number of occupiers. However, some personal involvement such as control or management of the premises is required. Put simply, someone who is able to exclude strangers from the ‘place’ can be defined as an occupier.

What do the police have to prove?

Police do not need to proved that your knowledge of drugs found at your residence.  You have the burden of proof to prove why you could not have reasonably known about the presence of drugs.

For example, you may have a roommate who you were not aware smoked cannabis. But police found drugs in your house and charged you with possessing them. Although you were not aware of the drugs being in the share house it is your responsibility to prove ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that you did not know and could not have reasonably known or suspected drugs could be present on the property.

An example of how to prove you did not know could be someone admitting the drug was theirs. Another way to prove this may be with regards to the location of the drugs found in the ‘place’.  For example, the drugs might have been kept in a safe or otherwise hidden in your roommate’s room.

What do I do now?

If you are charged by police, please contact us so that we may explore the options available to you. You can contact our office via online enquiry or alternatively call our 24 hour line on (07) 55270020 to discuss your options further.