Police / Stop and search
What happens during a stop and search?
Where can the police touch me? Do all searches happen in public?
Disclaimer: this article is for general information in England and Wales. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our page here.
Stop and search are the powers the police have to stop people in order to search them. Section 3 of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) Code A covers the rules.
This page will cover the 3 main types of searches, going from least intense to most intense.
1. Jackets, outer coats and gloves searches
This is the lightest type of search. During this search, the police can ask you to remove your jacket, outer coat or gloves.
If they are doing a Section 60 search, they can ask you to remove things they think are hiding your identity. This can include religious head coverings.
The police might put their hands in your pockets, collars, socks or shoes. They might also search in your hair. They might do this:
- If they think it is reasonably necessary in the circumstances to find what they are looking for, or
- If they want to look at anything they reasonably suspect you are hiding.
The police can ask you to do this in public, such as on the street.
If the police ask you to remove a religious head covering, the officer should allow you to remove it out of public view.
The officer can be of any gender. If they ask you to remove religious headwear, it should also be an officer who is the same gender as you, if this is feasible. If the officer doesn’t know your gender, they should ask what you prefer.
More thorough search
This search involves removing more than jackets, outer coats or gloves. For this search, the police can ask you to remove any item of clothing that is not covering an intimate part of your body.
The officer must have reasonable grounds to think that doing a more thorough search is necessary.
This search must take place out of public view. For example, it might take place in a police van or at a police station.
According to the guidance, the police officer searching you must be the same gender as you. If the officer doesn’t know your gender, they should ask what you prefer. A police officer of a different gender than you can’t be there unless you ask for them.
There are strict guidelines on reasons that the police can strip search you. More information on strip searches is here.
The police should not strip search you just because they haven’t found what they’re looking for
During a strip search, the police can ask you to take off more than your outer clothing. Outer clothing includes shoes and socks.
Sometimes they can ask you to take off all your clothes and show the intimate parts of your body. This kind of strip search is called an exposing intimate parts (EIP) search. You can read more about it in Annex A of PACE Code C.
The police should not put their hands inside your body other than your mouth. That would make it an intimate search. Intimate searches are not allowed under stop and search powers.
Strip searches can only be carried out
- In a nearby location out of public view
- In a nearby police station.
It should not be carried out in a police van.
The police officer searching you must be the same gender as you. If the officer doesn’t know your gender, they should ask what you prefer. You can ask for an appropriate adult to be there with you if you are a vulnerable or aged 17 or under.
Key things to know about stop and search
- The police should only keep you for the minimum time possible. Read more about your rights here.
- You also have your rights under the Human Rights Act
- You should not be discriminated against.
- These searches are not voluntary. That means that the police can stop and search you even if you don’t want them to.
- The police shouldn’t be transphobic. More information on the rules the police have to follow regarding your gender are on our page here.
- The Public Order Act 2023 has expanded the situations where the police can stop and search you.
What 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 the police discriminated against you.
Please see our pages on police complaints for 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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