Stop & Search – Police Powers And What You Should Do If Stopped

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Stop & Search – Police Powers And What You Should Do If Stopped

Many will never forget the shocking case of Sarah Everard who was stopped by police officer Wayne Couzens for an alleged Covid 19 breach. He was not in uniform, he showed her a warrant card and went on to kidnap, rape and murder her.

The case prompted national outrage about police abusing their so called powers of stop and search and there were various calls for laws to change. But clearly the police need powers of stop and search in order to protect the public from all sorts of crimes such as drugs offences, burglary and vehicle thefts, up to more serious offences involving violence such as firearms offences and terrorism.

But what are the powers of the police and what can you, or should you do if you are stopped. In this article Paralegal Jack Ashworth gives the answers to these important questions.

When are the police allowed to stop and search me?

Stop and Search provisions are divided into two types. Those that require reasonable suspicion and those that do not.

Reasonable suspicion is required.

A Police Officer may stop and search a person, vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting they will find prohibited or stolen articles. Police and Criminal Evidence Act (s.1(2) & s.1(3))

Reasonable suspicion is based on objective facts, information and intelligence.

A person cannot be stopped or detained for the purposes of finding grounds. However, if, though a conversation with a civilian an officer’s suspicions are aroused, then a lawful search may be conducted.

Reasonable Suspicion is not required:

A Police Inspector (or above) may authorise searches of any pedestrian or vehicle in any locality in his police area if he believes that serious violence may take place, a dangerous instrument or offence weapon may be being carried in that area and it would be beneficial to give authorisation to find the instrument or weapon. 

The authorisation

  • Can only last for a period of 24 hours (but can be extended by a further 24 hours by a Superintendent.)
  • Allows police officers to stop any pedestrian, vehicle, driver and passengers for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments.

If you fail to stop or stop a vehicle you commit an offence for which you are liable to 1 month imprisonment or a level 3 fine. Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

What should happen before you’re searched?

Before a search is conducted by an officer, certain information must be conveyed to the person being searched. (S2 (3) Police and Criminal Evidence Act This information is as follows:

  • A clear explanation of the object of the search. Why do they want to search you? (Their reasonable suspicion if required)
  • The officer’s name and the Police Station to which they are attached
  • Under which legal provision are they searching you
  • That you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how can you get a copy

What are the possible courses of action when you’re stopped?

Once stopped for the purposes of a search and the search is completed the officer must either release you or arrest you. However, an arrest will only be lawful if it is necessary.

How long can the police detain you for?

There are no fixed time limits for a person being detained for a stop and search. A person may be detained for the purposes of the search; however, the period must be reasonable and kept to a minimum.

What other rights do you have when being stopped by the police?

There are a number of additional rights available to a person who is stopped by the police. For example,

  • If the person being searched does not understand what is being said or there is doubt to their ability to speak English, then reasonable steps should be taken to convey the rights to that person.
  • If removal of more than the outer layer of clothing is required, then this cannot take place in public. It just be conducted in a place out of the public view. Therefore, if the search requires the removal of more than the outer piece of clothing and there is no suitable place where this can take place, the search cannot be conducted. Equally, if you are asked to remove any religious clothing you must be allowed to remove this in a private place.  
  • The search should take place at or near the place the person was detained. A place ‘near’ is a place within a reasonable travelling distance by whatever mode of transport is at their disposal. 

The obligations set out in S2 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act are mandatory and failure to comply may render the search unlawful. (R v Bristol)

What should you do if you have been stopped and searched by the police?

First, It is worth noting that the police can stop and question you at any time. They might ask you for example, who you are, where you have been or where you are going. You do not have to stop (unless an area authorisation has been made in accordance with Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 as detailed above) or answer these questions. If you don’t and there’s no other reason to suspect you, then this alone can’t be used as a reason to search or arrest you.

If you do stop and the officer is not in uniform, ask to see a document confirming their role as a Constable. For example, a warrant card.

Following this, attempt to ascertain why the search is being conducted. Does the officer have reasonable suspicion? If so, why do they have this suspicion?

The officer should disclose the necessary information outlined above but if not, you should ask for this information.  

Reasonable force may be used to carry out the search but only after it has been established that the person being searched resists or is unwilling to co-operate. (S117 Police & Criminal Evidence Act) It is therefore advisable, once their identity is established, to co-operate with the officers stop and search. 

However, be mindful of the provision above outlining that the stop must be kept to a minimum and reasonable. 

If you’ve been arrested or accused of a crime because of a stop and search procedure you need professional criminal defence solicitors handling your case. Burton Copeland are expert criminal defence solicitors based in Manchester and operating throughout the UK. We can help you if you have been stopped and searched by police.

Get in touch with our expert solicitors as soon as possible by calling 0161 827 9500 during office hours, or 0161 832 7834 at any other time. Alternatively, fill in our online form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

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