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Can the police search my premises?

The ability of the police to enter and search a persons home or work premises is one of the most intrusive powers available in this country.  Having a stranger enter someones property is a significant interference with an individuals right to respect for private and family life, as laid down in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Given the intrusion, there are strict rules around whether police officers can lawfully enter your premises. While the police can enter with the occupiers consent, there are restrictions that apply and the police cannot arbitrarily enter and search your home or work premise.  

As set out below, there are certain circumstances in which the police do not require a warrant to search your premises, and other instances in which they can only enter after being granted a valid search warrant.   

When can the police enter my premises without a search warrant? 

The police have numerous powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) which allow them to search premises without a warrant being issued: 

  • Carry out an arrest warrant 

  • Arrest someone with an arrest warrant 

  • Recapture a person who has absconded from custody 

  • Save life 

  • Prevent injury to someone 

  • Prevent serious damage to property 

  • To arrest a person accused of certain serious offences 

  • Uncover evidence after a person has been arrested 

In addition, the police can search the home of a suspect of an indictable offence if that is where they were when they were arrested (or immediately before their arrest) to look for evidence related to that offence. 

Finally, the police can search a home without a warrant if an immigration officer or police officer believe that a person who has been arrested is not a British citizen and that their nationality documents may be found in the place where they live or were located immediately before arrest. 

When can the police enter my premises with a search warrant? 

If the above situations do not apply, then the police can only search your home with a search warrant. This will need to be obtained from a judge or magistrate and grants the police with the legal authority to enter premises and look for specific items.  

These warrants will only be granted if various requirements are met including the court being satisfied that a serious offence has been committed and there are items of significance to the investigation at the premises. The police also have to prove that they will not be able to gain access to the premises without a warrant. 

The police must provide the warrant permitting them to enter the premises as soon as practicable, and you have a right to keep a copy of the document. 

There are two types of warrant that can be issued to authorise searching premises under PACE: 

  • Specific premises warrant: this only allows the police to search the premises specified in the warrant application. A specific premises warrant will only be valid if there is a reasonable belief that items at a premise will be of significant value to the investigation and trial of an indictable offence that has been committed, and the items are not protected by legal privilege.   

  • All premises warrant: this grants the police the power to search any premises owned or controlled by a person who is connected to an indictable offence. This will only be granted and valid if it is not reasonable to name all the possible premises that might need to be searched. 

Are there items that the police cannot search my premises for? 

There are three types of materials that are afforded protection from the polices power to search your premises.  They are: 

  • Legally privileged material: this includes any material that relates to legal proceedings or legal advice, as well as any items related to such material. 

  • Excluded material: unless, a special warrant has been obtained by a police officer, material such as medical samples taken in order to diagnose an illness, confidential business trade records, and journalistic material, cannot be searched for. 

  • Special procedure material: this encompasses any material which does not fall into the other two categories, but is material that has been acquired or created in the course of business, trade or profession that has been ordered to be kept in confidence, and so is strictly private. 

Are there any other limits on the ability of the police to search my premises? 

There are certain requirements even if a warrant has been granted, including: 

  • The search of premises permitted by a warrant must be carried out within three months of the date the warrant was issued. After this time, a new warrant must be applied for 

  • Unless the police officer believes that entry into the premises will be otherwise blocked, the search of a premises must be at a reasonable hour   

  • If the occupier of the premises would like a neighbour, friend or other person to witness the search then this must be allowed, except where the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe this would seriously hinder the investigation 

  • If the premises have been entered by force, it must be left safe and secure upon the polices departure. 

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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