Police officer powers under PACE 1984

First contact with justice

For most people, the first contact they have in a legal problem will involve the police. The police have the responsibility of investigating matters, search for evidence such as witness statements or forensic evidence that will support a case if it should go to court, as well recommending to the CPS whether or not a case should go to court.  

The main law that governs the powers that the police have is the Police and criminal evidence Act, also known as PACE.

PACE 1984

PACE was introduced to replace a confusing set of laws that dealt with police powers. PACE has introduced one law that controls the police powers to stop, search, and arrest and detain and interview alleged criminals.

Pre-Arrest powers

All police officers have an uninterrupted power to ask members of the public questions which they feel may deter and prevent crime or detect crime. No member of the public is under any obligation to answer these questions, whether on the street or in the police station, unless they have been lawfully detained.  

A problem may arise surrounding how far a police office can go in order to detain a person without arresting them. The courts have decided that a police officer may touch a person in order to gain their attention, such as tap their shoulder, but they cannot stop them from moving away unless they are arresting that person.  

Under S50 of the police reform Act 2002, a uniformed police officer can require a person who has behaved in an anti-social manner to provide their name and address. If a person fails to do so then they may be arrested under s25 of PACE.

The power to stop and search

Under section 1 of PACE, a police officer may search a person or vehicle in public for stolen or prohibited articles. Prohibited articles may include offensive weapons, or articles that may be used in order to commit a crime.  

The police may only use this power if they have reasonable grounds to believe that they will discover stolen or prohibited articles. 

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 extended this power to cover the power to stop and search for articles intended to cause criminal damage.  

Police officers have to possess the reasonable belief that they are justified in their search so that members of the public are not subject to random searches.

Before the searching begins

Before a police officer carries out any of the above searches, they must identify themselves and the station in which they are based, and explain to the person they are about to search, the reasons for their search.

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For more information on:

  • Recording the Search
  • Other powers to stop and search
  • The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
  • Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985
  • Criminal Justice and public order Act 1994
  • Anti-terrorism, crime and security Act 2001