The police have legislative powers to stop, and in some circumstances search, those individuals they suspect of having committed, or that about to commit, a crime. These powers enable police officers to safeguard communities by taking a preventative, as opposed to solely reactive, approach to crime.
The police can stop and question you at any time. They may ask for details such as:
In these instances, where a search is not being carried out, you are neither obliged to stop, nor answer, their questions. Where you choose not to answer and there is no other reason to suspect a crime has or will be committed, the police cannot use solely the refusal as a reason to search or arrest you.
However, where an officer points out an offence they suspect you have committed, you are then obliged to give this information. However, this does not automatically determine that you are guilty of the offence, or that you will be arrested.
Police officers are also entitled to stop a person driving, at any time. They may, in these cases, ask for your name, birth date, driving licence and certain certificates including your insurance or MOT.
Police officers, in some circumstances, have the power to search you, what you’re carrying, and/or any vehicle. In order to do so, a police officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect you are carrying:
An example of a reasonable ground for suspicion would be a police officer having intelligence about a certain crime being commit in your area (and, further, by someone matching or similar to your description). A police officer may not, however, stop you solely on the basis of your age, race, nationality, appearance or religion. This would amount to discrimination.
In certain circumstances, a police officer can stop and search you without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This includes situations where it is suspected:
All stop and searches must be carried out with courtesy and consideration. The police officer must inform you of the following before they search you:
You do have rights in this situation. Where not otherwise given or clarified, make sure to ask for the grounds as to why you’re being stopped and searched. You can also check that the reason provided by the officer in question matches what they have recorded, once you have rightfully obtained your copy of the search record.
A police officer doesn’t always have to be in uniform, but if they are not wearing uniform when they stop you, they must show you their warrant card. This is an identification card issued to all police officers, signed by the chief officer of their force, and certifies that they hold office. On the other hand, a police community support officer must be in uniform to conduct a stop and search.
If you are in a public place, then a police officer as part of their search can only require you to take off:
If more items need to be removed, this must be done:
The same applies if you are asked to remove items worn for religious reasons. However, being taken to the police station for items of clothing to be removed does not mean you are being arrested.
The police officer must record the search but this does not amount to you having a police record. Following the stop and search, you are, by rights, entitled to either:
It is important that you obtain this record if you wish to carry out a complaint about your stop and search, as this will provide useful information and evidence surrounding the circumstances.
The police officer must record:
You are entitled to make a complaint about a stop and search experience. This can be done by:
The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.