Stop & Search: Know Your Rights

‘Stop and Search’ is an often controversial topic, not least because people don’t always know their rights and responsibilities.  The purpose of these guidance notes is to provide some information on what to do if you are stopped by the police.

You should record the following information:

  1. Date and time.
  2. Officer’s name and badge number.
  3. Where you were stopped?
  4. What happened?

When can police search me?
Police Officers have the power to stop, detain and search you without arresting you in a number of situations (there are different rules for stopping searching vehicles and these are set out below).

Body searches
Laws such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 set out the circumstances when an officer can legally search you.

An officer must suspect that you are in possession of a prohibited item, such as drugs, weapons or stolen goods.

An officer must also have reasonable grounds for their suspicion that you have a prohibited item on you.  For example, your behaviour could be taken as a sign that you are in possession of a prohibited item.  (Please see the exception of s.60 searches covered below).

An officer must not base their suspicion on your race, colour, age or the way you dress.

Where should the search take place?

Ordinary Searches
PACE permits the police to search you in most public places.

If you’re searched in a public place the police can put their hands in the pockets of your outer clothing (jacket etc) and fell around inside your collar, socks and/or shoes, if this is reasonable and necessary in the circumstances (for example if the police are searching for drugs).  The police are also permitted to search your hair in public.

What counts as a public place?
The definition of a ‘public’ place in PACE is: “any place to which (at the time of the search) the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as a right or by virtue of express or implied permission… or …other place to which people have ready access (at the time of the proposed search)”.

What if the police ask me to remove my clothes?
Generally the police only have the power to ask you to remove your coat, jacket or gloves in public.

If the police wish to carry out a more thorough search, such as asking you to remove (or partially remove) your jumper, t-shirt or trousers this must be done out of public view, for example, in a police van or at a police station.

If the police are searching you under S.60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act they can also ask you to remove facial coverings (such as a scarf) if they reasonably believe you are wearing it to conceal your identity.

Strip Searches
The police cannot conduct a search that involves exposing intimate parts of the body in a police van.  This should be done by an officer of the same sex as you and should normally be at a police station.

What should the police tell me?
When you are stopped you have a right to be given certain information:

1.      If the police officer is not in uniform then he or she must show you proof that they are a police officer.

2.      The police officer’s name and police station they are from.

3.      The ground for the proposed search (why they want to search you).

4.      The object of the search (what they are looking for).

5.      Information about the power to search you and your rights.

This information should be given even if you do not ask for it.

Should I be given a record of the search?
When you have been searched:

  1. The officer ‘must make a record of it at the time, unless there are exceptional circumstances which would make this wholly impracticable’.
  2. Immediately after the search is completed you should be given either a copy of the record of the search or a receipt telling you where you can obtain a copy of the full recorded or access to an electronic copy.

If the record of the search is not made immediately it should be done so as soon as possible after the search and you can request a copy of it within three (3) months.

It is always a good idea to obtain and keep a copy of the search record.

You do not need to give your name or address when being searched under PACE or Section 60.

Do the police always have to have reasonable suspicion?
There are some circumstances where the police do not need to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you are in possession of a prohibited item.

Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
The police can designate a specific area under Section 60 for a maximum of forty-eight (48) house when they believe that there will be serious violence in that area or people carrying offensive weapons.

Under these powers, the police do not need to have any suspicion that they will find anything prohibited on you.  They have extra powers under Section 60AA to require you to remove any facial coverings (such as a scarf).

You should be told if you are being searched under Section 60.

What if I am driving and the police stop me?
If you are driving, a police officer in uniform can order you to stop at any time without giving reasons.  It is a criminal offence not to stop.

The police also have the power to require that you provide them with documents (such as a driving licence and insurance) and to ask the name and address of the driver.

If the police wish to search your car they have to have reasonable grounds to suspect that they will find stolen or prohibited articles.

What happens if I get arrested?
If you are arrested you should be taken to a police station.  You have the right to FREE AND INDEPENDENT legal advice.

Always ask to speak with a solicitor before answering any questions.

If you are under seventeen (17) years old you should not be interviewed without an appropriate adult.  This should be someone in addition to your solicitor.

This guide to Stop and Search has been obtained from Tuckers Solicitors, who specialise in criminal law and cases against the police.  The firm has offices in Birmingham, London and Manchester and can be contacted on 0845 307 0004 or via email at info@tuckerssolicitors.com.  You can also visit their website at www.tuckerssolicitors.com or download Tuckers App.

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