Police Powers: Stop, Search & Arrest


Police Powers: Stop, Search and Arrest

By Michael Herford
12 November 2020

Stopping you to ask questions…

Generally, the police may stop and question you at any time but you are not obliged to stop and answer their questions. A police officer does not have to be in uniform, but, if they are not, they must show you their warrant card. A community support officer (PCSO), must be in uniform when they stop and question you.

A police officer might stop you to ask:

  • What your name is;
  • What you’re doing in the area;
  • Where you’re going;

Stop and Search: Police Powers

A police officer has powers1 to stop and search you2 if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying:

  • Illegal drugs;
  • A weapon;
  • Stolen property;
  • Something which could be used to commit a crime (e.g. a crowbar, bolt-cutters or blank
    bank cards).

Remember: You don’t have to stop or answer any questions. If you chose not to (and there’s no other reason to suspect you of an offence) then your refusal alone does not allow them to search, or arrest you.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors (unless the police have information or intelligence which provides a description of a person suspected of carrying an article) such as:

  • (a) age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction; and
  • (b) Generalisations or stereotypical images that certain groups or categories of people are more likely to be involved in criminal activity (PACE Code A paragraph 2.2B).

Section 60 Special Circumstances & No Reasonable Suspicion

Police officers may stop and search individuals without the need for reasonable suspicion if a s60 is in place. Section 60’s can be implemented where a senior police officer, with rank of inspector or above reasonably believes that

  • (a) incidents involving serious violence may take place in a locality
  • (b) a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in such incidents is being carried or
  • (c) that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in any locality in his police area without good reason (Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. (See PACE Code A paragraphs 2.12-2.14B).

These are for limited periods3 at specified locations. It is an offence to fail to stop when requested to do so by an officer exercising these powers but they must make clear that they are acting under Section 60 powers.

Michael Herford

Michael specialises in criminal law and is dedicated to representing clients on a wide range of the most serious and complex cases, often involving multiple defendants, many of which have been reported in the national press over the years.

Due to his consistently accurate legal advice, he ensures the majority of investigations he is instructed to defend are discontinued. However, if his clients are charged, Michael will ensure the highest quality of representation where no stone is left unturned to seek an acquittal, or if guilty, that the minimum possible sentence is imposed by the court. As part of his meticulous preparation to present his client’s case, he will hand-pick specialist Counsel to provide the most formidable defence available.

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Legal 500 - 2020.

Questions Before Search…

An officer may ask questions before searching you, for example, if you have been seen to act suspiciously. Your answers may confirm or dispel that suspicion but your answers cannot retrospectively justify them stopping you where there were no reasonable grounds to begin with4.

Before You’re Searched…

Before you’re searched the police officer must tell you5:

  • That you are being detained for the purposes of a search;
  • Their name and police station;
  • Why they are legally allowed to search you;
  • What they expect to find (e.g. drugs or weapons);
  • The reason they want to search you (e.g. if it looks like you’re hiding something);
  • That you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy;

Removing Clothing: Police Powers

A police officer can ask you to take off your coat, jacket or gloves6 and this must be at or near where you were detained.
If the officer wants you to remove anything more than outer clothing (including anything you wear for religious reasons) this must be done by an officer of the same sex as you and it must be done out of public view, such as in a police van or a nearby police station7.

However, a police officer may (without taking you somewhere private) place their hands inside the pockets of your outer clothing or feel around inside of collars, sock, shoes or your hair8 for the purposes of looking for an object.
The police may use reasonable force to search you but only if it has been established that you are unwilling to co-operate or resist under code A paragraph 3.2.

Remember: Being searched doesn’t mean you’re being arrested.
Disguises: A police officer may also ask you to demand that you remove any face coverings with an officer reasonably believes to be worn wholly or mainly for concealing your identity9. This is only where a special order has been given by a senior police officer in a certain locality.

Your Rights On Arrest…

The police can arrest you if they have reasonable grounds for believing that you have committed or are about to commit an offence10. If you’re arrested the police must11:

  • Identify themselves as the police;
  • Tell you that you’re being arrested12;
  • Tell you what crime they think you’ve committed;
  • Explain why it’s necessary to arrest you;
  • Explain to you that you’re not free to leave

If you’re under 18, the police must also contact your parents, guardian or carer as soon as possible after your arrival at the police station. You should not be arrested at school unless it is unavoidable, and they must inform your headteacher.

Police Powers To Use Reasonable Force…

If you try to escape or become violent, the police can use reasonable force13, for example holding you down to prevent escape or applying handcuffs.

When you're arrested…

If you’re arrested, you’ll usually be taken to a police station, held in custody and eventually questioned.
After you’ve been taken to a police station, you may be released or charged with a crime. On your arrival, the custody officer at the police station must explain your rights. You have the right to14:

  • Get free legal advice;
  • Tell someone where you are;
  • Have medical help if you’re feeling ill;
  • See the rules the police must follow15;
  • See a written notice telling you about your rights16, such as regular breaks for food and to use the toilet
  • Foreign nationals have a right to inform their consulate of their arrest.

You’ll be searched and your possessions will be kept by the police custody officer while you’re in the cell.

Young people under 18 and vulnerable adults

The police must try to contact your parent, guardian or carer if you’re under 18 or a vulnerable adult. They must also find an ‘appropriate adult’ to come to the station to help you and be present during questioning and searching.

Foreign Nationals

You have the right to inform your consulate of your detention. You also have the right to an interpreter free of charge.

Free and independent legal advice

You will never be penalised for asking for legal advice. It is your legal right and it is free of charge.

Remember: the law is complex and it never hurts to get expert advice, even if you are sure you have done nothing wrong.

Ask for Michael Herford and he, or one of his specialist team will provide you with a Legal Lifeline when you need it most.

  1. Section 1 of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence 1984) as amended
  2. or anything which is in or on a vehicle
  3. Up to 24 hours in the first instance but extendable for a further 24 hours (s.60(3))
  4. PACE Code A paragraph 2.9
  5. PACE Code A paragraph 3.8
  6. PACE Code A paragraph 3.5
  7. Code A paragraph 3.6
  8. Unless this would require removal of an item worn for religious purposes
  1. Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (see PACE Code A paragraphs 2.15-2.18)
  2. See full provisions in section 24 of PACE 1984 and Code G paragraphs 2.9
  3. Section 28 PACE 1984
  4. Code G paragraph 3.3 note 3
  5. PACE 1984 section 117 and Criminal Justice Act 1967 section 3(1)
  6. PACE Code C paragraph 3.1
  7. The Codes of Practice under PACE referred to throughout this article
  8. he Codes of Practice under PACE referred to throughout this article