Police Powers: Entering and Searching Premises

What is Entry and Search

There may be circumstances when the police have the power to enter premises and search them with a view to either arresting someone, seizing items in connection with a crime or, both. The most important provisions governing this area of the law are to be found in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Warrants

There will be situations when the police may enter premises to search them without being in possession of what is known as a warrant, which is a written document issued by the court authorising the arrest of a person or the search of his home or any other premises in connection with the suspect, in other situations it will be necessary for the police to make an application to the court for a warrant to be issued before they can enter the premises.

When a warrant is not necessary

It is not necessary for the police to be in possession of a warrant in order to enter and search premises in the following circumstances:

  • To arrest a person for whom a warrant of arrest has been issued during criminal proceedings;
  • To arrest a person for an indictable offence, meaning any offences that can be tried by a jury in the Crown Court; these tend to be the more serious offences;
  • To arrest a person for an offence under the Public Order Act 1936 section 1 which states that it is prohibited to wear a uniform in a public place or at a public meeting signifying an association with a political organisation, without permission to do so;
  • To arrest a person for an offence under the Public Order Act 1986 section 4 which prohibits anyone placing another in fear of violence;
  • To arrest a person for using or threatening violence for the purposes of entering premises (Criminal Law Act 1977 section 6);
  • To arrest a person who is a trespasser on the premises and who has failed to leave those premises after being asked to do so (Criminal Law Act 1977 section 7;
  • To arrest a trespasser who has with him any weapon (Criminal Law Act 1977 section 8)
  • To arrest a person who interferes with an Officer of the Court when they are trying to enforce a judgment (Criminal Law Act 1977 section 10)
  • To arrest a person for driving or being in charge of a vehicle when under the influence of drink or drugs;
  • To arrest someone for failing to stop a vehicle when required;
  • To arrest a person for acts of animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006;
  • To arrest a child or young person who has been remanded or committed to local authority accommodation;
  • Recapturing a person, including a young offender, who has escaped from custody;
  • Recapturing a person unlawfully running who is being pursued;
  • In an attempt to save a life or prevent injury to someone or serious damage to property.

Other than to save a life, or prevent injury or serious damage to property, the police can only exercise the above powers if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person they are searching for is on the premises. In connection to searching for items, the police can enter premises in search of items only if the suspect has been arrested for an indictable offence and there are items relating to the offence that will be useful as evidence. In this case an officer of the rank of inspector or above must give their authorisation in writing.

When a Warrant is needed

An application will be made to the Court by a Constable when there is a need for a warrant. There are two types of warrant that may be issued for the search of premises; these are a Specific Premises Warrant or an All Premises Warrant.

Specific Premises Warrant

The Constable can only enter and search the premises specified in the application. This warrant will only be issued if the Court is satisfied that all the following criteria are fulfilled:

  • An indictable offence (one of the more serious offences) has been committed; and
  • There are items on the premises that will be of significant value when investigating the offence; and

  • These items will be useful as evidence during a trial; and

  • That the items are not protected by legal privilege; and;

  • That a Constable will be prevented from entering the premises, either because there will be nobody available to grant them entry or they will not allow them entry and the search may be seriously affected if the Constable does not gain immediate access, if they do not possess a warrant.

All Premises Warrant

The Constable can only enter and search premises that the person specified in the application lives in or controls. This warrant will only be issued if all the above criteria are satisfied in addition to which the Court must be satisfied that:

  • It is not reasonable to name all the premises that may need to be searched in the warrant; and

  • It is necessary, because of the details and nature of the offence, to search any premises owned or controlled by the person in question which are not included in the application.

Protected Materials

There are certain materials that are offered some protection from police search and seizure:

  • Legally Privileged Material: Any material relating to legal advice or to legal proceedings and any items related to either of these;

  • Excluded Material: Special warrants must be obtained by the Constable in order to seize this material. This category includes business trade records which are held in confidence, medical samples taken to diagnose illnesses and any journalistic material;

  • Special Procedure Material: Any material that doesn’t fall under the first two categories but which the person holding it has stated they will keep confident or have been entrusted to do so. Again, in this situation the Constable will require a special warrant.