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Stop and search

Police officers have the right to stop and question a person at any time. They can search people or their property depending on the situation. A police officer does not need to be in uniform to stop and search a person, though they would need to show a warrant card. A police community support officer (PCSO) has to be in uniform to perform these functions. 

Police Powers 

The powers that the police can use to stop and search a person depend on the circumstances surrounding the situation: 

Stop and Question 

Police officers may stop and ask members of the public questions such as: 

  • Their name 

  • What they are doing  

  • Where they are going. 

The member of the public does not have to stop or answer any questions if they do not want to. Provided that they do not and there is no other reason to suspect them, this cannot be the basis of a lawful search. 

Stop and Search 

A constable has powers to stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are carrying: 

  • Illegal drugs 

  • A weapon 

  • Stolen property 

  • An item that could be used to commit a crime 

The definition of reasonable here would be a genuine and objective basis for suspicion, not based on personal factors but rather or accurate and current intelligence. The grounds that can be used to determine arise where there is a suspicion that: 

  • Serious violence could occur. This is still governed by a rule of reasonableness, as the inspector reasonably believes that serious, violent incidents will occur in the area and that there are people in this area carrying dangerous articles or offensive weapons without good reason. This particular power only last for 24 hours unless extended by a super intendent. 

  • The person has a weapon or has used one 

  • The person is in a certain location or area 

How to carry out the searches 

Prior to the search, the police officer must take reasonable steps to tell the suspect: 

  • That they have been detained for the purpose of a search 

  • The reason for the stop and search 

  • Their name 

  • The legal search power that is being exercised 

  • The purpose of the search 

  • Grounds of suspicion 

  • Their right to have a copy of the search record.  

The person that has been stopped will be asked for their name, date of birth and self-defined ethnicity but they do not have to give this information unless they are being reported for an offence.  

Location 

The location of the search is also important. These searches should take place in a public place or a place where the public have access. If it is a garden or private dwellings yard, the search should only take place if the person being searched does not live there and does not have occupiers consent to be there.  

Search of a car 

The police can stop anyone driving a car and ask to see their driving documents, as well as checking the condition of the car and handling any driving offence. This is not a stop and search. However, once stopped, if the car or those inside it are searched then this would be regarded as a stop and search in the same way as if the person was stopped when walking.  

Clothing 

The police do not have any power to remove your clothing in public, save for outerwear like coats and face coverings and they can likewise feel outer pockets or inside collars. If a more thorough search is required, this should be done in a police van or a police station and be actioned by an officer of the same sex.  

If the clothing is of a religious, for example, a veil or turban, this must be done out of public view.  

Should the person resist, as a last resort the police can use reasonable force to remove clothing.  

Recording a search 

Search information must be recorded, and the person is entitled to this search information should they wish for a copy. It should be noted that being searched is not the same as being arrested.  

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.

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