What is Considered An Illegal Search by the Police?

It’s common knowledge that the police have the power to stop and question you at any time, if they suspect any wrongdoing. But did you know they can also search you? However, this does depend on the situation at hand.

It’s important that you know what your rights are if you’re being stopped and searched by a police officer, and what constitutes an illegal search. We’ve compiled this handy question guide so that you can know what is legal, and what is against the law, when it comes to police searches.

When does a police officer have the power to search me?

A police officer can only stop and search you without reasonable grounds if they have had approval for the search from a senior police officer. This is could be because:

  • You or others are in danger of serious violence
  • They suspect you of carrying or using a dangerous weapon
  • You’re in a specific location, i.e. a crime scene

Can a police officer stop and search without a senior officer? 

Police can stop and search you, without the permission of a senior officer, if they suspect you are carrying:

  • Stolen property
  • Illegal controlled substances
  • A weapon
  • Anything that could be used to commit a crime, i.e. a heavy pipe

Does a police officer have to be in uniform to perform a search?

If you’re stopped by a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO), then yes, they have to be in uniform to conduct the search. However, a police officer does not have to be in uniform. They do, however, need to show you a warrant card if they are not in uniform.

What items of clothing can the police officer ask me to remove?

A police officer is allowed to ask you to remove your outerwear, like your coat, gloves or jacket. They cannot ask you to remove clothing worn for religious reasons in a public place, but they can take you to somewhere private and ask you to remove it away from prying eyes.

Remember: if a police officer isn’t the same sex as you, they cannot ask you remove anything other than outerwear.

The police officer won’t give me a reason why they want to search me, is this legal?

Before being searched, the police officer must tell you their full name, and which police station they work for. They must also tell you the reason they want to search you, and what they expect to find.

Are there reasons why a police officer cannot search me?

Yes, a police officer is not allowed to search you based purely on you:

  • Religion
  • Age
  • Background
  • Nationality
  • Criminal history
  • Race or ethnic background

If you feel as though a police officer has carried out an unlawful search, then you may have grounds to make a complaint against the police.

Additional things to know about police stop and searches:

There are a number of additional things that you should know about police searches. These are as follows:

  • Being stopped and searched in no way means you are under arrest. However, you are legally obliged to stay for the duration of the search, and you will be physically prevented from walking away if this is necessary.
  • The search time will always be kept to a minimum by the police.
  • Once the search has taken place, you’ll receive a written record of the search.
  • Remember: the police do not have the power to stop a person to find a reason for a search. They must have a reason prior to stopping you.

If you believe you have been treated unfairly during a search, or if a police officer has been aggressive without a just cause then contact our actions against the police solicitors for expert advice and legal representation.