Disability / Police / Questioning
Stop and account: disabled people’s rights
Do I have to talk to the police? What if I need help communicating? What are my rights as a disabled person?
Disclaimer: this article is for general information in England and Wales. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. See our page here for information on how to get legal advice.
What are Section 50 powers?
Normally, you don’t have to answer, and you can walk away. However, in some situations, you will have to provide your name and address. These are known as Section 50 powers.
Section 50 powers allow the police to arrest you to find out your name and address. They can do this if they believe you have behaved in an antisocial way.
If you refuse to tell them, or if you give them the wrong name and address, this is a criminal offence. If you are found guilty, you will have to pay a fine.
What is anti-social behaviour?
Under Section 50, anti-social behaviour is behaviour likely to make other people feel “harassment, alarm or distress”.
There are many things that can count as “harassment, alarm, or distress”. It may include
- using threatening or abusive words, which might include swearing
- behaving in a disorderly way.
But if your behaviour is due to your disability, the police should take this into account. This is because of the public sector equality duty. This duty requires police to have due regard to the need to:
- take steps to meet the needs of disabled people
- take steps to take disabled people’s disabilities into account.
Having due regard means that the police must think about their need to do these things in a way that’s appropriate in the circumstances.
Do the police need to have proof that I am behaving in an anti-social way?
No. The police just have to “believe” that this is the case.
What if I give the wrong information by mistake?
Many people find it difficult to answer unexpected and direct questions. This can make it difficult to answer police questions correctly. This can be the case even for questions you know the answer to, like your name and address.
If you are disabled and you find it difficult to give your name and address under Section 50 powers, the police should think about the need to take your disability into account. This is because it is the police should not unlawfully discriminate against you.
You have the right to not be discriminated against
The Human Rights Act 1998
Article 14 says that you should be able to enjoy all your Human Rights without discrimination. This means treating you differently than others without a good reason.
This only applies to public bodies, like the police.
The Equality Act 2010
This bans various types of discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, which include disability. This applies to public bodies, like the police, but also private bodies, like employers.
It also requires the police to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, and to consider their Public Sector Equality Duty.
What does this mean if I get stopped and asked questions by the police?
Depending on the situation and your needs, this could mean that the police could have a duty to do things like:
- speak slowly and clearly
- rephrase things and speak in plain language
- face you and allow you to see their lips
- allow you to sit down
- write down their question and allow you to write your answer
- be okay with you not making eye contact
- give you time to think about the question
- give you time to answer.
What can I do if the police treat me badly?
You can complain to the police if you don’t like how they treated you. This includes if you feel they discriminated against you.
Please see our pages on police complaints for is more information about how to do so.
If you think the police broke the law, you might want to get legal advice. Visit our page here on how to find legal help.
What are my rights on this?
Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them
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