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  • Namita Pawa

What are police powers of stop and search?

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

The Police have powers to stop and search individuals under certain circumstances. These powers are governed by the by various Acts including the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (‘PACE’) and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (‘CJPOA’). The main types of police stop and search powers are:

Section 1 PACE 1984 Stop and Search

This power allows police officers to stop and search a person if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual is carrying prohibited items, such as weapons, stolen property, illegal drugs or something, which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar.

Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

Under this power, police can conduct searches without needing reasonable suspicion in specific areas during certain periods when serious violence is anticipated and where this authority has been granted by an Inspector or above. This is used to prevent potential incidents from occurring.

Section 23 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Police can stop and search a person if they suspect they are in possession of illegal drugs.

Terrorism Act 2000

Police officers can stop and search individuals in certain circumstances if they believe the person is involved in terrorism-related activities.

Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 (Repealed)

This power allowed police to stop and search individuals in a designated area without needing reasonable suspicion. However, this power was repealed and replaced by more targeted counter-terrorism measures.

If I am asked to stop by the police, do I have to?

A police officer might stop you and ask for your name, what you are doing in the particular location and where you are going.

You are not required to stop or answer any questions. If you choose not to and there is no other reason to suspect you, your refusal alone cannot be used as a reason to search or arrest you.

From a more practical perspective you may choose to stop and find out what the police want to ask you before making a decision as to whether to engage with them. It is often advisable to remain calm, polite and respectful at all times when speaking to the police.

What do the police have to do when they stop me?

It's important to note that when a police officer stops and searches an individual, they must provide their name and badge number, explain the reason for the search and state why they are legally allowed to search you. They must also tell you that you can have a record of the search and if that is not immediately possible, then how you can obtain a copy.

If you believe you were unfairly or unlawfully searched, you have the right to complain and seek legal advice.

What are the police allowed to do when searching me?

If a police officer has exercised their power of stop and search, they can ask you to take off your coat, jacket or gloves. If they want you to remove more than a jacket and gloves, they must be the same gender as you.

The police might ask you to take off other clothes and anything you’re wearing for religious reasons - for example a veil or turban. If they do, they must take you somewhere out of public view.

Police stop and search powers are subject to oversight and guidelines to prevent abuse. It's crucial for officers to use these powers lawfully and fairly while respecting individuals' rights and dignity.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


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