What Are The Laws Around Stop and Search in the UK?

Stop and search is a technique regularly employed by law enforcement officials around the world to help in the prevention of crime and the capture of criminals. It has proved a highly effective method in many cases, and shows no sign of being withdrawn as a police tactic. In fact, there have been calls for it to be used more regularly in areas such as Greater London where incidents of knife crime have recently risen dramatically.

However, the laws surrounding this particular practice are stringent, as there have been particular incidents of its clear misuse in the past and there continue to be reports of officers breaking protocol in actions connected to stop and search.

So if you or a loved one feel like you may have experienced an unlawful search, take a look below to see whether your concerns can be legally backed up, and what action you may be able to take. The younger people in your family may not be fully aware of their rights or the correct regulations that should be adhered to during stop and search, so you should take the time to talk them through it all.

1. Why Were You Stopped?

Did the officer or officers involved tell you why you were stopped? It is clearly stated within the rules of stop and search that this must be made clear to you straight away. If you think that you were stopped because of anything connected to your religious or racial background, your sexual or gender identity, what you were wearing, or any other discriminatory reason, you may have a case against the officials involved if you can prove it. For example, if you have been able to retain a recording of an officer using racially-focused or abusive language during the incident, that may serve as damning evidence against them.

Reasons that could be given for stop and search include the suspicion that you may be carrying:

  • Illegal substances such as drugs
  • A weapon
  • Stolen items or
  • Something which could be utilised to commit crime – for example, tools that could be employed to help you break into a property.

You can only be stopped if the officers in question have reasonable grounds to believe these things. The only circumstance under which this rule can be waived is if a senior police officer has approved a search on the grounds that:

  • It is highly possible that physical violence could occur if they do not stop you
  • They see that you are carrying a weapon or have evidence that you had or were using one previously or
  • You are travelling through a specific restricted location

2. What Were You Asked?

If you feel you were asked any inappropriate questions by the police representative who stopped you, you can decide whether your suspicions are correct by taking a look at the following set questions you can be asked as part of this exercise. These are:

  • What is your name?
  • What are you doing in this area?
  • Where are you going?

…Or any relevant variations of these.

Officers should not be asking you any personal or sensitive questions. You absolutely have the right to decline to answer anything they ask, and you aren’t even legally required to stop. You can only be arrested if the police can provide another relevant reason why you should be – for example, if they have grounds to suspect you for a specific crime.

3. What Did They Tell You?

Police officers can only search you once they have told you:

       A. Their name and police station

       B. What items they are searching you for

       C. Why they want to search you – for example, if it looks as though you may be concealing drugs or a weapon 

       D. The fact that it is legal for them to search you, and why

       E. That you have a right to obtain a record of the search, and where you can get that from

       F. If they have not covered all of this information, they should not be searching you.

4. What Did They Do?

Police officers are legally only allowed to ask you to take off a coat, jacket or gloves at the location of a stop and search. They can also ask you to remove other items, including religious headwear and clothing, but they are required to ensure that you are located somewhere out of sight of the general public before you do so. You can also be asked to remove items of clothing below your jacket, but only an officer of the same sex as you can ask you to do this.

While officers are allowed to physically touch you during a stop and search, the contact must not hurt or be of a sexual nature – which may be considered to be police assault. You may be asked to raise your arms or bend over to assist them. If you feel you were touched inappropriately, it is vital that you report it.

It is important to legally contest police misconduct when it occurs, to ensure that all laws and procedures are being strictly adhered to for the safety and peace of mind of the general public as well as the representation of your own rights. If you feel that any of the above regulations have been broken in your case or the case of a loved one, all you need to do is get in touch with DPP Law actions against the police solicitors to proceed in making a claim against those responsible.

You can call them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for sensitive and professional legal advice, support and representation on 0333 200 5859.