Filming an accident instead of helping – what the law says in New South Wales
We see it on social media and on the TV news all the time – someone films an accident or a person being abused on public transport and they continue filming, rather than dropping the phone camera to go and help them.
Many of us have screamed at the TV: “Put the phone down and go and help them!” So, what does the law say about this situation?
Are we obliged under the law to help someone who is caught in an accident or who is being abused in public?
No duty of care owed to strangers in NSW
The short answer is that under NSW law, we do not have a duty to help a stranger involved in an emergency or an accident.
So, in theory it is legal to take no action and keep on walking if you hear a cry for help, provided you are not related to the person in peril. It may be absolutely despicable, but it is within the law.
But if the person in trouble has some relationship to you, or is someone for whom you have a responsibility, or you caused the accident, then the law changes. You then have a duty of care.
NSW laws that govern filming
The law in NSW is clear on filming – you can film whatever you like in a public place – provided you do not enter private property, breach privacy rules, or take indecent photographs without consent.
The Surveillance Devices Act sets out the law related to the installation, use and maintenance of surveillance devices in NSW. The Summary Offences Act prohibits filming that amounts to offensive conduct.
Filming police and emergency services workers
Even though it is generally permitted to film in a public place, under anti-terrorism laws police do have the power to prevent photographs being taken or filming of an action in “certain circumstances”.
Hindering emergency service workers while trying to get a better shot with your camera could get you arrested, as could crossing police boundaries. Otherwise it is within the law to film police or emergency services workers in a public place.
Protection of Good Samaritans who inadvertently hurt someone
Some people have wondered whether there is such a thing as a Good Samaritan law that protects them if they put down their camera and go to the rescue and in the process hurt someone.
But regardless of what the law says, it is far better for your own conscience to go to someone’s aid if they are in trouble than to stand back filming, hoping to get on TV or for the clip to go viral on social media. It’s part of the real world.