It is important to know that if you are approached by police, you DO NOT have to stop or answer any questions. If you don’t and there’s no other reason to suspect you, then this alone can’t be used as a reason to search you. A search is not the same as being arrested.
What gives the police the right to search me?
In most cases, an officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are in possession of a prohibited item, such as drugs, weapons or stolen goods.
Your behaviour for example could be taken as a sign that you are in possession of a prohibited item. An officer must not base their suspicion on your race, colour, age or the way you dress.
Can the police ever search me without reasonable grounds?
Yes, there are some circumstances where the police do not need to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you are in possession of a prohibited item.
This can happen if it is suspected that:
- serious violence could take place
- you’re carrying a weapon or have used one
- you’re in a specific location or area
This would need to be approved by a senior police officer. The police can designate a specific area for a maximum of 48 hours when they believe that there will be serious violence in that area or people carrying offensive weapons. Under these powers, the police do not need to have any suspicion that they will find anything prohibited on you. They also have extra powers under section 60A to require you to remove any facial coverings (such as a scarf). You should be told clearly if you are being searched under section 60.
What should the police tell me before the search?
When you are stopped you have a right to be given certain information:
- If not in uniform then he or she must show you proof that they are a police officer
- His/her name and police station they are from
- Why they want to search you (e.g. it looks like you are hiding something)
- What they are looking for (e.g. stolen items or drugs)
- Why they are legally allowed to search you
- That you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy.
This information should be given even if you do not ask for it.
Where should the search take place?
It depends what type of search the police intend to carry out.
The police are permitted to search you in most public places if they only want to:
- put their hands in the pockets of your outer clothing (jacket etc.) and feel around inside your collar, socks and/ or shoes, if this is reasonable and necessary in the circumstances (for example if the police are searching you for drugs)
- search your hair
If the police wish to carry out a more thorough search, such as asking you to remove (or partially remove) your jumper, t-shirt or trousers this must be done out of public view, for example in a police van or at a police station.
If the police wish to conduct a strip search (a search that involves exposing intimate parts of the body), then this cannot be conducted in a police van. This should be done by an officer of the same sex as you and should normally be at a police station.
Should I be given a record of the search?
When you have been searched the police should:
- make a record of it at the time unless there are exceptional circumstances which would make this wholly impracticable
- immediately after the search is completed, you should be given either a copy of the record of the search or a receipt telling you where you can obtain a copy of the full record. If a record of the search is not made immediately it should be done so as soon as possible after the search and you can request a copy of it within 3 months.
It is always a good idea to obtain and keep a copy of the search record.
What if I am driving and the police stop me?
If you are driving, the police can order you to stop at any time without giving reasons. It is a criminal offence not to stop. The police also have the power to require that you provide them with documents (such as a licence and insurance) and to ask the name and address of the driver. If the police wish to search your car they have to have reasonable grounds to suspect that they will find stolen or prohibited articles.
What happens if I get arrested?
If you are arrested you should be taken to a police station. You have the right to FREE & INDEPENDENT legal advice. You should request Craghill and Tuckers Solicitors immediately. Always ask to speak with a solicitor before you are interviewed. If you are under 17 years old you should not be interviewed without an appropriate adult (this should be someone in addition to your solicitor).