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Your rights - stop and search

May 23 2009
I know you‚Äö?Ñ?¥re down on your targets, but this is entrapment‚Äö?Ñ?? I know you‚Äö?Ñ?¥re down on your targets, but this is entrapment‚Äö?Ñ??
The power to stop and search must be used fairly, responsibly, with respect for the person being searched and without discrimination Have you been stopped and searched by the police? Do you know what powers the police have to do this and what your rights are? Liberty's Advice and Information Officer, Shamle Begum, explains... The law allows the police to stop and search a person if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying drugs, weapons, stolen property or other items which could be used to commit a specified offence, including burglary, theft and criminal damage. Reasonable suspicion means that there must be some basis for the officer's belief, related to you personally, which an independent third party would consider to be objectively justified. The power to stop and search must be used fairly, responsibly, with respect for the person being searched and without discrimination. Reasonable grounds for suspicion cannot be based solely on attitudes or prejudices towards certain types of people, such as homeless people or young people. Nor can it be based solely on your skin colour, age, hairstyle, mode of dress or previous convictions. You should not be stopped solely because of your race, age or the way you dress, unless you fit the description of a suspect. There are two main exceptions to the requirement for reasonable suspicion before the police can stop and search a person: Terrorism Terrorism laws allow the police to designate specific areas to be places where they have special powers in relation to terrorism. This means that within these areas people can be stopped and searched by the police if they consider it appropriate to prevent acts of terrorism. There is no need for any reasonable suspicion. The whole of London is currently a designated area, but areas outside of London may also be designated areas. Serious Violence If there is serious violence expected in an area, the law allows a senior police officer to authorise all persons and vehicles within an area to be searched regardless of suspicion. (Police powers to stop and search under terrorism laws or where serious violence is expected are not dealt with in this article.) What must the police do? Before detaining you to conduct a search, the police officer must inform you of: ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ their identity by showing you their warrant card if they are not in uniform; ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ their name and the name of their police station; ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ what they are looking for; ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ the grounds for the search; and ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ the fact that you are entitled to a copy of the search record. If the police do not provide this information, then the search may be unlawful. What does a search involve? A search can take place in most public and some private places. The police can only give you a pat down and remove your outer clothes, such as your jacket, hat and gloves. They are allowed to put their hands in the pockets of outer clothing and feel around inside collars, socks and shoes if this is reasonably necessary in the circumstances. They cannot ask you to take off any more than this, or anything which is worn for religious reasons such as a turban or headscarf, unless they take you somewhere private - like a police station. The officer searching you in these circumstances must be of the same sex. A police officer is allowed to use reasonable force if necessary to detain you and conduct the search, but force can only be necessary if you are first given the opportunity to cooperate and you refuse to do so. The length of time the police can detain you to conduct a search must be kept to a minimum but the law allows the police to detain you for as long as is reasonably required for the search to be carried. An important point to note is that you do not have to give your name and address and you do not have to explain your whereabouts. The search record The police must make a record of each and every search they carry out. The police officer must write down: ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ your name or a description of you if you refuse to give your name; ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ when and where they searched you; ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ what they were looking for, why they think you may have it and anything they found; ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ the name and badge number of the officer that searched you; and ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ your ethnic background. If you are not given a copy of the search record at the time, you can get a copy from the police station if you ask for it within 12 months of the search. What should you do? You should always ask a police officer to explain on what basis they are searching you. If no search power exists you should not be searched unless you are entering sports grounds or other premises and your consent to the search is a condition of entry. At the end of the search, ask for a copy of the search record. If the police officer fails to provide one, note down the name, badge number and police station of the officer searching you. You should also note down the ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ time and events leading up to the search and your location; and ‚Äö?Ѭ¢ specific wording used by the police to explain their authority to search you. You can use this information to request a copy of the search record from the relevant police station within 12 months of the search. Further questions or need further advice? Liberty offer a free human rights telephone advice service staffed by solicitors and barristers to help answer any questions you may have about stop and search powers or other human rights issues. The telephone number is 0845 123 2307 and is open on Mondays and Thursdays between 6.30pm and 8.30pm and Wednesdays between 12.30pm and 2.30pm. Liberty also have an information website at on which you can find further information about this and other civil liberties and human rights issues. Liberty is a campaigning group working to protect civil liberties and promote human rights through a combination of test case litigation, lobbying, campaigning and the provision of free advice. Liberty is an independent membership organisation and relies on the support of individuals. Join today at Shamle Begum, of Liberty, is responsible for the charity's Voluntary Sector Advice Service. Liberty