Police Powers

Revision cards covering police powers to stop & search, arrest, detain & interview.


- Parliament has given police special powers which can be used in certain circumstances to invetigate crime.

- Powers include right to stop suspects, search them, arrest and interview people, and to take fingerprints and DNA samples.

- It is important that people are not unnecessarily harassed by the police and that suspects are protected from unfair treatment - the law also sets out rights that the suspects have.

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Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)

- There are 7 codes of practice set out in PACE:

Code A - stop & search powers
Code B - powers to search premises & seize property
Code C - dealing with detention & questioning of suspects
Code D - identification
Code E - audio recording
Code F - visual recording
Code G - arrest

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Stop & Search - Acts

- Main powers to stop & search are in PACE.

- The other statutes containing stop & search powers are:

1) Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
2) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
3) Terrorism Act 2000

Power under PACE to stop & search: power to stop & search vehicles and people reasonably suspected in a public place.

Safeguards set under PACE for stop & search:
Police officer has to:
- Give name/number/station
- Carry out search in a public place
- Create record

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Stop & search - Powers to stop and question

- Police may question individuals, but they are free to decline to answer.

- E.g. Rice v Connolly - member of the public was considered to be behaving suspiciously in an area where burglaries had occured.

- The individual was questioned but they refused to answer. His conviction for obstructing the police officer in the execution of his duty was quashed and it was confirmed that members of the public are not obliged to answer questions.

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Stop & search - Powers to stop and question - Rick

- Rice v Connolly can be compared with Ricketts v Cox 1982.

- The police asked the individual questions about an assault, who was hostile and used abusive language.

- The Magistrates' Court decided that he was guilty of obstruction.

- The case shows that there appears to be a thin line between lawfully refusing to answer questions and obstructing the police, based on whether the refusal is accompanied by hostility or not.

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Stop & search - The recording of stops

- Under PACE Code A, when an officer requests that a person in a public place account for his/her presence/behaviour/possession of anything, a record must be made of this and a copy given to the person.

- The record must include the date/time/place/reason for questioning/individual's definition of his/her ethnicity and the outcome.

- The record need not be made if the police are asking for general information, such as witnesses/directions.

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Stop & search - The search

- The power to search comes under s.1 (3) of PACE and is supplemented by Code A.

- The Code states that powers to stop & search must be used fairly, with respect and without discrimination.

- The individual can only be stopped and searched if the police have reasonable suspicion that the suspect has drugs/weapons/stolen property/objects used to commit crime/act of terrorism or criminal damage.

- The suspicion should be based on facts, intelligence, information or behaviour.

- It cannot be based on personal factors, including age, race, religion, appearance, previous convictions, generalisations or stereotypes (protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010)

- The individual must be informed that he/she is being stopped so search may be carried out, and myst be informed of the officer's name/number/station, given an explanation and informed of the object of the search.

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Stop & search - The search contined...

- If the officer is not in uniform, he/she must provide ID.

- The individual can be stopped and searched in a public place or anywhere else if the police have reasonable suspicion.

- If the search is in a public place, the suspect can only be asked to remove his coat or jacket and gloves s2(9) PACE

- If the police wish them to remove anything else, the suspect must be taken to a nearby place out of public view.

- If the suspect protests, reasonable force may be used.

- If the police recover any stolen or prohibited articles, these can be seized.

- An example of a case whereby the police officer did not carry out the correct procedure in stop & search is Osman v DPP.

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Arrest - Police powers to arrest

- The power to arrest has recently been amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and a new code.

- Code G was issued to give guidance on the power of arrest, and confirms that the right to liberty is a fundamental human right, and that as the power of arrest interferes with this right officers must be fully justified in using it.

- SOCPA changed the guidelines giving power to the police to arrest, which is that there is now no distinctiom between an arrestable and non-arrestable offence anymore.

- For there to be a lawful arrest under SOCPA, there are 2 key elements that must be present:
1) Reasonable suspicion that the person is about to commit an offence, is commiting an offence or has committed an offence.
2) Belief that an arrest is necessary:


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Arrest - Police powers to arrest continued...

- Under SOCPA, the police have the power to arrest anyone who:

1) is about to commit an offence
2) is in the act of committing an offence
3) is believed to be guilty of committing an offence
4) is believed to be involved in the commission of an offence

- Where the power of arrest is based on reasonable grounds for believing it ins necessary to arrest the person, at least one of six criteria for determining whether the arrest is necessary must be met:

1) to ascertain person's name
2) to ascertain person's address
3) to protect a child, the vulnerable, or suspect himself
4) to prompt an investigation
5) to prevent the individual from disappearing
6) if the person is believed to be part of terrorist activity

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Arrest - Procedure

- The person must be informed by the arresting officers of the fact of his/her arrest and the reason of it, even if this is obvious.

- He/she must be cautioned in the following way:

"You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not answer when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence".

- The next stage in the process of the arrest is to take the individual to the police station for further investigation.

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Arrest - Record of arrest

- At the time of the arrest, or as soon as possible afterwards, the arresting officer is required to record the nature and circumstances of the offence leading to the arrest, the reason as to why the arrest was considered necessary, the fact that a caution was given and anything said by the person at the time of arrest.

- This information is then recorded in the custody record on arrival at the station.

- If there is not enough evidence to charge the suspect at that stage, he/she will be detained.

- this is so that the police have time to gather the necessary evidence.

- Police will try to obtain the required evidence though interviewing the suspect.

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J Drabble


Good use of cases - a good resource to be combined with Police Powers notes for a comprehensive revision guide

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