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.  

If a police officer is not in the correct uniform, they must provide documentation to prove they are who they say they are.  

The police officer has the power to use reasonable force if necessary; however, the person being searched cannot be asked to remove any clothing in public, with the exception of an outer coat, gloves, scarf and hat etc. If the police officer wishes a further search to take place, this will have to be conducted in a private place usually the police station.  

When a person is stopped to be searched, the police officer will ask them to provide their name, address and ethnicity.  

The police officer conducting the search must make a recording of the search for police documentations, and any articles of an offensive nature, or have been stolen, will be seized by the police officer at the scene.

Recording the Search

When a police officer is recording a stop and search, he will detail why the person was stopped for a search, and detail the outcome. One copy is to remain with the police officer, and another copy is to be give to the person searched.

Other powers to stop and search

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Section 23 of this Act allows the police to stop and search anyone they reasonable believe to be in possession of an illegal, controlled drug.

Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985

This Act gives police the permission to stop and search anyone prior to entry into certain sporting events such as a football match, to search for items that are prohibited from the grounds.

Criminal Justice and public order Act 1994

Section 60 of this Act gives a senior police officer the power to give written authorisation to police officers to stop and search people and vehicles within a certain area, where the senior police officer believes serious violence may occur. This area may be subject to stop and searches for a period of 24 hours. This may be extended for another 30hours. The police may stop and search any pedestrian or vehicles for offensive and dangerous weapons.

Anti-terrorism, crime and security Act 2001

This act gives the Home Secretary the power to authorise, in secret, for the police to make random stop and searches in order to fight the threat of terrorism.