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Mutual assistance

Australia needs to ensure that criminals cannot evade prosecution because the evidence or proceeds of their crimes are in different countries.

Mutual assistance is the process countries use to obtain government-to-government assistance in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Mutual assistance can also be used to identify and recover the proceeds of crime.

This department is responsible for seeking and providing government-to-government assistance in criminal matters.

Australia's mutual assistance system is governed by the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987.

An overview of the mutual assistance process is available in the fact sheet below:

Mutual assistance requests are made by the Attorney-General on behalf of:

  • a law enforcement agency
  • a prosecuting agency
  • a defendant in a criminal matter (in some cases).

Australia can make requests to any country and receive requests from any country. Countries assist on the understanding that they will receive assistance in return when the need arises.

The following diagram shows why mutual assistance is needed:

Flow chart with three steps. The first step shows a person is accused of money laundering in country A, the next step is the person holds a bank account in country B. The final step is Country A requests bank records from country B using mutual assistance.

Mutual assistance is a reciprocal process. Australia can make requests to any foreign country and can receive requests from any foreign country. Countries assist on the understanding that they will receive assistance in return when the need arises. This is shown in the following diagram:

Flow chart with three steps. The first step shows a person accused of importing drugs into country A from Country B. The second step is that the internet records that show the persons involvement in the offence are held in country C. The final step is when country B requests internet records from country C.

Alternatives to mutual assistance

There are alternative methods that law enforcement officers can use to obtain information and evidence from foreign countries.

Police-to-police assistance

Police-to-police assistance is a form of cooperation between police in one country and police in another country. Examples of police-to-police assistance include exchange of intelligence information or preliminary enquiries to determine whether evidence of an offence is located in a foreign country.

Police-to-police assistance is often used at the early investigation stage or to obtain evidence that does not require the use of coercive powers.

The following example describes the difference between mutual assistance and police-to-police assistance when a murder occurs in Australia:

Chart showing the difference between mutual assistance and police to police assistance. The example is a murder offence occurs in Australia and a witness to the offence is located in the United States. For police to police assistance the police identify the need for the witness statements. Police then ask their US counterparts to obtain a voluntary witness statements. US police provide statement. For mutual assistance the prosecution requires a police statement to be used in court in an admissible form, the

Agency-to-agency assistance

Agency-to-agency assistance is a form of cooperation between non-police agencies and their counterparts overseas.

Australian federal investigative agencies have information sharing arrangements with their counterparts in foreign countries. The information sought through agency-to-agency assistance often does not require a mutual assistance request.

Police-to-police and other agency-to-agency assistance can be an effective way to determine what material is held by a foreign country prior to making a mutual assistance request. The Australian Federal Police maintains an extensive international network of officers posted overseas who can assist in this process.

Contact the Central Authority

The International Crime Cooperation Central Authority is responsible for mutual assistance casework. The Central Authority can provide further information in relation to Australia's mutual assistance framework or specific advice in relation to mutual assistance requests.

Mutual assistance requests from foreign countries should be sent to:

International Crime Cooperation Central Authority
Attorney-General's Department
3-5 National Circuit

Requests for mutual assistance can also be sent through diplomatic channels to this department.​​

Contact details

International Crime Cooperation Central Authority
3-5 National Circuit BARTON ACT 2600