Describe the powers of the police to stop and search a person on the street.

The police have the authority to stop and search any person, vehicle, and anything in or on the vehicle for prohibited items. To do so they must have reasonable grounds.

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The police have been granted powers to stop and search a person under not only the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

 

The police have powers to stop and search someone if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect they are carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or an object that could be used to carry out a crime. If there are no 'reasonable grounds' a person can be stopped and searched only with the approval of a senior police officer when there is a suspicion that a violent crime could take place or if the person is in a specific place or that they have used a weapon.

 

Section 1 of PACE provides that the police have the power to stop and search a person in a public place if they have reasonable suspicion that prohibited articles such as stolen property or articles made, adapted or intended for use in a burglary or for criminal damage, and this could include paint spray cans, are in the person's possession.

 

In recent years there have been problems arising from the possession and lighting of illegal fireworks on the streets and in public places and, as a result, prohibited fireworks have been added to the list of forbidden articles by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The powers under section 1 of PACE include the power to search vehicles as well as persons.

 

There are issues concerning what amounts to good police practice in the use of these stop and search powers. Some ethnic groups consider that they are discriminated against by the police but that goes beyond what is required from the question posed and it is enough to say that the police do not have the right to stop and search because of your race or religious background.

 

Section 1 of PACE is supplemented by a Code of Practice PACE Code A 2013 which gives advice and guidance on the matter of stop and search. There are a number of safeguards in place concerning the power to stop and search. One proviso is that if the police officer is not in uniform he or she must produce evidence, in the form of a warrant card, that they are a police officer. This seems reasonable as some people may genuinely be concerned as to whether the person purporting to be a police officer is who they say they are.

 

In addition the police officer must state their name and their station and specify the purpose of the search and the grounds. The suspect should be able to ask the police officer for a reason for the search and, if no power to search exists, he should not be searched. An exception to this would be if there is a condition of entry to some venues or sports grounds which requires you to agree to being searched before entering.

 

The officer should also check that the suspect is given information about police powers to stop and search and what hisrights are. This needs to be done prior to the search and is thought to safeguard against speculative searches and ensures that the officer is aware that they must justify their actions. It is also considered a precaution in that the officer conducting the search will understand that by giving their name and station it will mean he can be readily identified in the event that the individual may later wish to make a complaint arising out of the fact that they were stopped and searched.


The courts have indicated that if this requirement is not met the search will be treated as unlawful (Osman v DPP (1999). The Divisional court in this case took the view that the officers' failure to give their names or station, made the search unlawful and as a result the defendant could not be held guilty of assaulting a police officer in the execution of their duty. The defendant had resisted the search and had consequently been charged with assaulting the police.

 

Once the suspect has been stopped it might be enough for the police to ask questions to allay their suspicions. If the police are satisfied that there are no suspicious grounds they will inform the suspect and he will be free to go. The police are not able to stop someone to allow them to find grounds that would justify them carrying out a search.

 

The person who has been stopped should be made aware that a written record of the search will be required to be made and he must be advised of how he can obtain a record of this if it is not provided at the time of the search.

 

An important safeguard concerns the question of reasonable suspicion and Code A provides that reasonable suspicion cannot be substantiated by personal factors alone such as the individual's age, ethnic origin, hairstyle, manner of dress or any known previous conviction.

 

The powers to stop and search under Section 1 extend to places to which the public have access. This includes a public street or highway but may also include a place where the individual has paid for admission. It may also extend to a private garden if the officer has reasonable grounds for thinking that the member of the public has no right to be there.

 

As the power to stop and search applies to a public place the search is restricted. The officer carrying out the search may request the outer coat, jacket or gloves to be removed. The Act is quite specific as to what is included in the search – prohibited articles, so any extensive search or delay may be considered unreasonable or excessive. A search may be expected to take only minutes and is not the same as a full or intimate search which is likely to carried out at a designated police station.

 

The power to stop and search in PACE allows the police to carry out a search for items that could be stolen, 'prohibited articles' or knives. 'Prohibited articles' covers offensive weapons and/or articles which could be used, for example, in burglary, theft, or to cause criminal damage to property. There needs to be some evidence of use of the article for the stop and search to go ahead.


What amounts to reasonable suspicion has been tested in the courts. In Castorina v Chief Constable of Surrey (1988) the court of appeal held that this does not mean that there has to be sufficient grounds or evidence for a member of the public to think that the suspect was guilty – merely that an ordinary person may think that the suspect was guilty.

Parliament has decided that it is only right that the police have the powers to stop and search in other circumstances and these include where there is suspicion that unauthorised or prohibited drugs are involved and in cases where terrorism is suspected. These powers are contained in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Terrorism Act 2000.

 

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, empowers a police officer of the rank of inspector or above, to authorise in writing the use of the powers of stop and search for dangerous or offensive weapons. The powers apply to a specific area for a limited time – not exceeding 48 hours. The power extends to vehicles. Code A applies except for the provisions relating to what might amount to reasonable suspicion. Officers do not need to show that they have reasonable suspicion. Such powers include the removal of masks and face coverings. This seems to be justified in that these powers do not ordinarily apply and can only be exercised in extenuating circumstances as provided for in section 60.

 

Stop and Search Part 1 by metpoliceservice YouTube

Stop and Search Part 2 by metpoliceservice YouTube 

Stop and Search Part 3 by metpoliceservice YouTube 

BBC News - Police use of stop-and-search powers criticised by HMIC

BBC News - Public consultation into stop and search powers

In this essay we look at the powers of the police and safeguards for members of the public when performing stop and search.

As always the links are available for you to use to extend your research into police powers to stop and search.

 

(Word count 1229)

 

 

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