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Stop and Search is a police power in England and Wales, allowing police officers to search members of the public for weapons, drugs, stolen property, terrorism-related evidence or evidence of other crimes. Police also have powers to enter and search premises. On 12th January 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the use of the power to stop and search without suspicion under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to be unlawful.[1]

Contents

Historical context

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) was enacted to correct perceived problems with the implementation of the powers previously granted to the police, the Judges' rules. The 'sus' law allowed police to stop, search, and subsequently arrest a 'suspected person' without warrant. Due to perceived unfair implementation of this law within the black community, there were riots in some parts of the country in majority black areas (Brixton, Handsworth, Toxteth, Southall & Moss Side) in the early 1980s and "sus" was repealed in 1981[2]. Under PACE, the law states that the grounds for a standard "stop & search" are limited to a situation where the officers have reasonable grounds for suspicion[3].

These powers are similar to the US Probable cause and Reasonable suspicion.

Powers

Police officers and Police Community Support Officer have limited statutory stop and search powers. Consent in itself does not give rise to authority to search. Annex A and C of Code A to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 list those powers. The following table lists only the main powers.

Power and extent Conditions for search Conditions for seizure
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, section 1
  • What Persons and vehicles
  • Where Where there is public access
  • Who by Police Constables
Reasonable suspicion he will find:
  • a stolen item
  • an offensive weapon
  • an article adapted for use in connection with or intended by the person having it for use in:
    • burglary
    • theft
    • taking a motor vehicle without consent
    • fraud
    • destroying or damaging property
  • a firework possessed in contravention of a fireworks regulation
Reasonable suspicion the article is a :
  • stolen item
  • offensive weapon
  • an article adapted for use in connection with or intended by the person having it for use in:
    • burglary
    • theft
    • taking a motor vehicle without consent
    • fraud
    • destroying or damaging property
  • a firework possessed in contravention of a fireworks regulation
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 60
  • What Persons and vehicles
  • Where Anywhere authorised
  • Who by Police constables in uniform
Authorisation for up to 24 hours of a police inspector on the basis of reasonable belief:
  • that incidents involving serious violence may take place in any locality in his police area, and that it is expedient to give an authorisation under this section to prevent their occurrence, or
  • that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in any locality in his police area without good reason.

This law is used mainly to tackle football hooliganism and gang fights.

A police officer discovers:
  • a dangerous instrument or
  • an article which he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be an offensive weapon.
Terrorism Act 2000, section 44 Authorisation by a person of sufficient rank that on the basis that he considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

It is under this law that police conduct random searches in train and London Underground stations.

An officer discovers an item
  • he reasonably suspects is intended to be used in connection with terrorism
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, section 23(2)
  • What Persons and vehicles
  • Where Where there is public access
  • Who by Police Constables
Reasonable suspicion he will find:
  • A controlled drug
Belief that:
  • It is evidence in connection with an offence under the Act

Conduct of a search

Code A to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 governs the exercise of stop and search powers. Reasonable force may be used in the exercise of stop and search powers.[5]

If an officer uses Stop and Search powers, they must inform:

  • The law under which they are stopping or searching you
  • Their collar number and police station
  • What they are looking for
  • The reason for the stop (unless it is a terrorist stop)
  • They should also advise that the subject has the right to be given a record of the search if they so wish.
  • Advise the subject that they are detained for the duration of the stop

Rights of persons being searched

These rights are set out in Sections 2 and 3 of The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and are binding on all forms of stop and search, not only those authorised by Section 1 of that act.

  • It is not necessary to give an officer one's name and address in a Stop and Search. Declining to provide this information is not a valid reason for arrest.
  • If a subject refuses to be stopped, the police can use reasonable force to both stop and detain, so they can conduct a search.
  • If police are searching for drugs, weapons or stolen property, they must have a reason for suspicion (such as a general description, your behaviour, or other intelligence) before they can make a search. If the Stop and Search is terrorism-related, or the Stop and Search is conducted under the powers granted by S.60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, then this is exempted from that rule.
  • The officers making the search must use the Stop and Search powers fairly, responsibly and with respect for people without discrimination.
  • If English is not the first language of a subject, and they do not understand why they have been stopped, reasonable steps must be taken to provide information in the subject's first language.
  • The officer must make sure that the search time is kept to a minimum.
  • The search must take place near where you are stopped, except in instances where moving a subject would protect their privacy.
  • The police do not have the power to stop someone to find grounds for a search.

The Stop and Search Form

Officers are obliged to provide a form explaining the reason for the stop and giving contact information.

On occasions where officers are unable to provide the full form, for example if they receive a call they must urgently respond to, they are obliged to provide a receipt instead. This acts as a record of the stop, and a full form can be subsequently obtained from a police station any time within the next twelve months by providing this receipt.

References

  1. ^ BBC article 'Stop-and-search powers ruled illegal by European court' [1]
  2. ^ Office of Public Sector Information: Criminal Attempts Act 1981
  3. ^ Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  4. ^ Police Reform Act 2002, Schedule 4, paragraph 15.
  5. ^ Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, section 117

External links

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