Police powers to enter and search premises

What is entry and search?

In certain circumstances outlined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), the police have the power to enter premises and search them to either arrest someone, seize items in connection with a crime, or both.

Do police need a warrant?

Police usually need to obtain a warrant from the court before they can enter and search premises. There are situations, however, when the police may enter premises to search them without a warrant.

When is a warrant not necessary?

It is not necessary for the police to be in possession of a warrant 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 (ie, a serious offence which would be heard at Crown Court);
  • to arrest a person for an offence under the Public Order Act 1936, s1 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, s 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, s 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, s 7);
  • to arrest a trespasser who has with him any weapon (Criminal Law Act 1977, s 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, s 10);
  • to arrest someone for failure to comply with an interim possession order (Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, s 76);
  • 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 is a warrant 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.

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For more information on:

  • All premises warrant
  • Protected materials
  • Execution of search warrants