Stop and search, what are your rights?

By June 15, 2021 June 6th, 2023 Wheldon news
Police searching

Stop and account

Stop and account is the power allowing police officers to ask questions about who you are and what you’re doing in the area in which you’re stopped. It is not the same as stop and search.  You can be stopped in the street by a police officer or a police community support officer (PCSO).  If the officer is not in uniform, they must show you their warrant card as proof of their identity.  With stop and account officers may ask you:

  • What you are doing
  • Why you are in the area
  • Where you are going
  • What are you carrying

Always ask why you have been stopped.  If it is a stop and account, you are under no legal obligation to answer any questions and can walk away at any time.  The police do not have the power to search or arrest you just because you refuse to answer their questions.

Officers do not have to make a record of stop and account encounters, but if a record is made you should be offered a copy of the record.  If a copy is not provided, you can request a copy within 3 months.

Stop and search

Police powers of stop and search are controversial and such powers should be used fairly, responsibly, with respect for people being searched and without unlawful discrimination.  The power to stop and search arises out of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Code A which gives a police officer the power to stop and search a person if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they are in possession of one of the following:

  • A weapon
  • Stolen property
  • Drugs
  • Something which could be used to commit a crime

Only a police officer has the power to stop and search a person.  If the officer is not in uniform, they should show you their identify card.

What does “reasonable grounds” mean?

“Reasonable grounds” means what an ordinary person would think of as fair if they were in possession of the same information as the police officer.  A police officer cannot stop you based on your race, nationality, religion or because you have a criminal record.

Reasonable force can be used if you fail to cooperate.

What does the officer have to do before searching me?

Before you are searched, the police officer must tell you:

  • Their name and police station
  • What they expect to find
  • The reasons for the search
  • Why they are legally allowed to search you
  • That you are entitled to be provided with a record of the search

An officer can ask you to remove gloves, a jacket or coat. However, if they want to remove anything else (including religious clothing) they must take you out of public view. You should also be searched by someone of the same sex if this happens.

What should I do when I am being searched?

Although you may be angry and frustrated at being searched, try to stay calm and avoid being verbally abusive, as this is likely to escalate the situation.  Remember that officers usually wear body-worn video which may be recording the search.

What happens after the search?

Police officers make a record of every search they conduct at the time. You will be asked if you want a copy and if you do, you will be provided with one.

You can apply for a copy within three months of the search taking place. If you are arrested and taken to a police station, the details of the search will be recorded as part of your custody record instead.

Do I have to provide my name and address to police?

You only have to provide your name and address to police if you are informed that you are suspected to have committed a criminal offence.  If you refuse to provide these details, you could be arrested.  If you provide false details to police, you could be charged with an offence of obstructing police.

Stop and search without suspicion

In certain circumstances, police can stop and search a person without reasonable grounds to suspect you are in possession of a prohibited item.  This power arises under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and such searches can only be authorised by a police officer of at least the rank of Inspector.  Such authorisation can only be given if the Inspector reasonably believes that:

  • Incidents involving serious violence may take place in an area, or
  • An incident involving serious violence has taken place and that a weapon used in the incident is being carried in the area, or
  • People are carrying weapons in the area

If authorisation for a search under section 60 has been granted, then you should consent to the search, but you are entitled to apply for a written record of the search if you apply within one year.

A person must not be searched because of their race, age, sex, religion or disability.

Stopping and searching vehicles

Police officers in uniform have the power to stop a motor vehicle on a road and ask the driver to provide their name, address and date of birth and require them to produce the following documents:

  • Driving licence
  • Insurance certificate
  • MOT test certificate

An officer can also check the condition of the vehicle.

If the driver or any of the passengers are asked to account for themselves, then this is a stop and account.  If the vehicle or any of the persons within the vehicle are searched, then this is a stop and search.

How can Wheldon Law help?

Should you be arrested by the police and taken to your local police station following a stop and search please do ensure that you call Wheldon Law. It is in your best interests that you have a solicitor present to protect and advance your legal rights whilst you are at the police station.

When you arrive at the station the officers will ask you if you would like a solicitor and may offer you a duty solicitor. You do not have to use the duty solicitor and are entitled to request your own solicitor.  If you tell the officer that you would like Wheldon Law to represent you they will be able to contact us any time, day or night.

Alternatively, you may be asked to attend a voluntary interview at the police station at a later date.  If so, please contact us and we will arrange for one of our team to be present with you when you attend the police station to be interviewed.

Call us on 01442 242999 or our out of hours police station number 07754 856794.