What to do if stopped by the UK police

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series UK Police

Stop and search at Notting Hill carnival

…stop and search powers are often used in a disproportionate and unjustifiable way, particularly in relation to black and ethnic minority people. A recent Equalities and Human Rights Commission report 1 suggests that black people are six times more likely to be subjected to stop and search procedures than white people, and Asian people twice as likely as white people to be stopped and searched.”

Emma Norton 2

What to do if stopped by the UK police – Know your rights

While UK police do have the power to stop and question any citizen at any time, they can only make a search dependent on the circumstance. A search is not, but may lead to, an arrest. 3 Community support officers (PCSO) must be wearing uniform to stop and question someone, but a police officer does not. However, if an officer is in plain-clothes, they must show their warrant card.

Community support officers (PCSO) must be wearing uniform to stop and question someone, but a police officer does not. However, if an officer is in plain-clothes, they must show their warrant card.

Consult the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 (and related codes of practice) 4, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJPOA) 1994, the Misuse of Drugs (MDA) Act 1971, and the Terrorism Act (TA) 2000 to familiarise oneself fully with the police’s powers of search.

Being stopped by the police; “Stop and account”

Police can stop anyone and ask them what they are doing, the reason for being in that location, and where they are going. It is legal in such situations to refuse to answer any questions, yet always prudent to remain calm, polite, and confident. If a search (or arrest) does not follow, it is legal to walk away.

The police can stop anybody who is driving a vehicle, and can ask to see their driving licence, insurance details and MOT certificate. They can also check the vehicle for roadworthiness.

Being searched by the police; “Stop and search”

The police code states that a search must never occur on the sole basis of a person’s age, race, appearance, or that they have a previous conviction. It also states that stereotypes or generalisations about a particular group of people or their religion are not on their own reasonable grounds for suspicion.

If a police officer has no grounds to suspect the person of anything during normal events, but becomes suspicious during an encounter, they may go on to carry out a search (as long as the code is satisfied). Senior police officers can approve stop and searches without reasonable grounds when they believe serious violence might occur, or that a person is carrying or has used a weapon, or is simply in a specific location.

The police have powers to stop and search anyone who they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect is carrying a weapon, illegal drugs, stolen property, or anything else that could be used to commit a crime (for example a hammer, crowbar, or extremist material). The article the officer suspects the person is carrying must be either on the suspect, or in their vehicle.

The search must take place at or near the place where the suspect is encountered. The officer must tell the suspect they are being detained for a search, as well as their name, police station, and a clear explanation of the search’s purpose. They must also show proof that they are a police officer (if they are not in uniform), state the specific legal power which allows them to stop and search, and, if applicable, the ground for suspicion, or any other authorisation.

Additionally, the officer must tell the suspect they have a right to a formal record of the search, to be provided at the time (unless there are “exceptional reasons” making it impracticable, in which case they must explain how to get a copy after the fact). Reasonable force may be used during the search, but only once it has become obvious that a person is unwilling to cooperate, and must be kept to a minimum. If a search requires the removal of more than outer clothing (coat, jacket, gloves, veil, turban, hat), it must be carried out by an officer of the same sex as the subject, and, usually, somewhere out of public view.

Mistreated by the police?

If you believe the police have mistreated you, file a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission 5 online. You can also consult the local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice and contact a solicitor to see whether you are entitled to compensation.

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