Can a police officer search my premises without a warrant?

When can the police legally search my premises?

If you give police the permission to search your premises, then this can happen at any time. Sections 8-18 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), gives the police statutory protection to enter and search your premises for evidence. These powers can be put into practise with or without a search warrant.

Searching a premises with a warrant

If the police wish to obtain a warrant to search premises, they apply to the magistrates’ court. The magistrates’ court is likely to grant a search warrant if they believe the police have reasonable grounds to suspect that an indictable offence has been committed and that the premises needing to be searched may contain evidence or materials that will be of beneficial importance to any subsequent trial. The courts will also investigate whether a search of the premises in question would be impossible without the granting of such a warrant.

If the magistrates’ court grants a search warrant, the police may be allowed entry to:

  • an identified premises;
  • any premises occupied or owned by the person named on the search warrant;
  • one premises on a number of occasions as stated in the search warrant; or
  • unlimited entries into the same premises.

Once a warrant has been granted

Once the magistrates’ court has passed a search warrant application, the police have three months to carry out the search. The search must be carried out at a reasonable hour, unless the police believe this would affect the efficiency of the search operation.

When a police officer attends a search, they must provide their identification and a copy of the search warrant so the suspect knows what is going on. If it is impossible or impractical to do so at the start of the search, they must do so at the most convenient and appropriate time.

When the occupier is present, the police must ask for permission to search the property, unless the search would be hindered by doing so.

The police officer must give the suspect a copy of their powers to stop and search, which will also contain the rights of the suspect to claim any compensation or rights to damages.

The police can force entry if they have a warrant where:

  • the occupier has refused entry or is absent;
  • it is impossible to communicate with the occupier;
  • the premises are unoccupied;
  • they reasonably believe that if they do not force entry it would hamper the search, or someone would be placed in peril.

Search without a warrant

The police can enter a premises without a warrant to:

  • tackle or stop a breach of the peace;
  • enforce an arrest warrant;
  • arrest someone in connection with certain serious offences;
  • recapture someone who has escaped from custody;
  • save life or prevent serious damage to property;
  • search a premises where a suspect was during or immediately before their arrest. The search must relate to the offence (or a similar offence) for which the suspect was arrested and they must have reasonable grounds for believing evidence is there;

Surveillance

The legislation that governs police surveillance operations includes the Police Act 1997 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Surveillance operations may include the following operations:

  • Placing bugs on private property
  • Intercepting communications, such as telephone calls
  • Undercover police officers