Stop and Search

There are two main types of stop and search power that you are likely to encounter: suspicion-based stop and search and suspicionless stop and search.

Stop and search

Police have the power (s1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 1984) and s23 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and other pieces of legislation) to stop and search you. They can only do so where they have:

  • Reasonable grounds for suspecting that you are carrying:
    • drugs;
    • a weapon;
    • stolen property; or,
    • something that could be used to commit a crime.

The police officer must have a genuine suspicion based on the information they have before them. That suspicion must then be reasonable. What forms ‘reasonable’ is judged by what an ordinary person with all the information the police officer has would consider reasonable.

How long can police keep me for?

The police are allowed to detain you during the search but it must be only for as short a time as possible. If the police do not have reasonable grounds, the search is unlawful and therefore so is the detention. This could give rise to an action against the police or a police complaint.

What do the police have to do when they stop and search me?

What the police officer must do:

  • they must give their name;
  • they must give the object of the search;
  • they must explain the grounds for the search; and,
  • make a record of the search (unless it is not practicable to do so)

What can they search and can they make me remove clothes?

They police can request you remove your outer coat, jacket and gloves. Anything more and they must take you to a police station or out of public view to a police tent. They cannot forcibly remove your clothes as this could amount to assault. If they fail to take reasonable steps to comply with the requirements above, the stop will be unlawful. This could mean that if they are considered to have taken reasonable steps, the search may be nonetheless still lawful.

Record of the search

You are entitled to a copy of the record made, if you request it within 3 months. It should include information such as your ethnicity.

Suspicionless stop and search

Section 60 (Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) allows for ‘suspicionless’ stop and search. This means that a police officer can search you without having any of the reasonable grounds above.

This can only be carried out where an authorisation has been granted by an officer of the rank of inspector – this lasts for 24 hours, subject to further extension.

To make such an authorisation the inspector must reasonably believe that:

  • an incident involving serious violence has taken place (or may take place) in England and Wales in his police area (e.g. a local borough or ward);
  • a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in any area in their police area by someone; and
  • it is expedient to give an authorisation under this section to find the instrument or weapon;

or

  • that individuals are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in any area in their police area without good reason,

Unfortunately there is little you can do in these scenarios, provided that a section 60 authorisation has been granted. It is important to bear in mind the police’s duty under the Equality Act 2010 and Children Act 2004.

Read the next section on Vehicle stops.