The powers the police have to search people and premises.

Article shared with kind permission of Conor Hunt (Student).

First of all we will look at the police powers to search people.

Stop and search:

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 1 sets out the provisions for the police to carry out stop and search, it is supplemented by PACE Code A 2013.

Police officers can carry out a stop and search if they have reasonable grounds to suspect any of the following:

  • You fit the description of someone the police want to talk about a crime.

  • There has been a crime nearby and the police want to question you about it.

  • The police suspect you to be carrying stolen property or illegal drugs.

  • The police suspect you of carrying something you could commit a crime with, such as knives, firearms or other weapons.

If they stop you they must tell you their name and their police station, why they want to search you and what they may have reason to find. They must explain to the person about to be searched why they have the authority to do so and that a record of the search will be available to them and tell them how they can obtain a copy.

You may be asked to remove your gloves, jacket and coat and your bags, wallet or purse may be searched.

If it is necessary to take off more than just gloves, jacket and coat or if you need to take off any items that you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf, veil or turban, the police will take you somewhere out of public view for your own privacy. In this instance the search must be carried out by a police officer of the same sex as the person being searched. It does not mean that you are being arrested.


Searching an arrested person:

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 32 sets out the provisions for the police to search a person after arrest.

Search after arrest can take place when the police:

  • Believe you may be in danger to yourself or others.

  • Suspect you may be carrying an item that could help you escape.

  • Think you may be carrying something that could be used as evidence of crime.

  • Need to check the belongings you have brought to the police station.


Now we will look at the police powers to search premises.

PACE Code B 2013 deals with the powers the police have to search premises and seize and retain property found on premises and persons. It must be adhered to by the police when carrying out a search of premises.


The police can enter premises and search a house if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion. The police do not always need to have a warrant to search premises, but they do need to have a good reason for doing so. They also need to be careful when searching premises because if they are found to have carried out the search improperly anything they find as evidence cannot be used, a court of law will not allow it.

Searches with consent :

The police are able to search your premises if you have given them permission to do so. The permission you give should be in writing if practicable, and the officer conducting the search should ascertain that the person giving their consent is the right person to do so.

The police are supposed to tell you why the search is taking place specifying if possible what or whom they are looking for and where they will be looking. The person consenting to the search must be informed that he does not have to consent to the search and that he can withdraw his consent at any time.

The police can then take items that they consider to be evidential that they can use.

In the case of a rented property it is not enough for the landlord to consent to the search it should be the tenant or lodger whose consent is sought.


Searches with a warrant :

The police must comply with the procedural rules set out in Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 15 and 16.

If the police want to enter premises without the consent of the owner, then they will have to apply for a warrant from the Magistrates' court. If this is the case, what the police are looking for is likely to be very important to the investigation of the offence.

Before the magistrate will issue a warrant to the police, they have to make sure that everything is in agreement with the provisions set out in PACE. The police will need to show that:

  • A serious offence has been committed.

  • The material on the premises is likely to be relevant evidence and that it will be admissible in court if the case comes to trial.

  • The occupier of the property is unlikely to consent to the search.

Once a warrant is issued the search must be carried out within three months of issue or within the time-scale stated on the warrant. Unless there is a good reason for it the search should take place at a reasonable time of day.

Police powers to enter premises without a warrant :

The conditions under which an officer may enter and search premises without a warrant

are set out in Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 17.


Sometimes the police can enter premises without a warrant or the owner’s consent. These situations are:

  • To arrest someone.

  • The recapture of a person who has escaped from lawful custody.

  • To save life or limb.

  • To prevent serious damage to property.

Search of premises of an arrested person:

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 32 sets out the conditions under which the police have the authority to enter and search premises after an arrest.

When a person has been arrested for an indictable offence, a police officer has the power to search the premises where the person was arrested or where they were immediately before being arrested.

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