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Stop and Search – what can and can’t the police do? Know your rights.

It was interesting to see the BBC Newsnight programme (aired on Monday 12th February 2018) place focus on the issue of police stop and search powers and ask whether the targeting of the black community in London – particularly young black men – is coming at the cost of community relations.

The programme asked how police could tackle rising knife crime, which is at a six-year high in the capital, and what role stop and search powers should play.

It highlighted statistics showing that black men are four times more likely to be stopped and searched in London than white men, and that 35 per cent of young black males aged 15-18 were stopped and searched last year, compared with just 10 per cent of white men.

The programme spoke to a 25-year old black man who said he had been stopped so often, he could not remember how many times it had happened. He described how police officers would only justify their decision to stop him by saying they were looking for somebody ‘black and wearing urban clothes’, on one occasion the stop resulted in a strip search in the back of a police van.

A 32-year old man said he’d been stopped between 20 and 30 times in his life, with officers often simply saying they were investigating an ‘incident in the area’. A 28-year-old black man described having been stopped on many occasions since the age of 14, and said he felt police officers failed to treat young black men as ‘human beings’.

Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 was aimed at standardising the use of stop and search powers, but the statistics demonstrate that has not been the case.  Statistics do not suggest black people account for a greater proportion of crime to justify the disproportionate stop and search numbers, and that is having a damaging impact on police relations with some communities.

As a human rights solicitor specialising in actions against the police, many of my clients feel disenfranchised, frustrated and extremely distrusting of the police when exercising their stop and search powers, and we are now in a situation where 74 per cent of the British, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in the UK think they are unfairly targeted by police.

Know your rights

Given the increasing use of stop and search powers, it is important to know your legal rights.

  1. You are not required to provide your name when you are stopped and searched. If asked, always ask under what power they are entitled to know your name before answering.
  2. The police need to have reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime before they stop and search you. Reasonable suspicion does not include the officer’s personal opinion, prejudice or stereotypes. A previous conviction does not give rise to a lawful ground to stop and search you.
  3. Before you are searched the officer must tell you;
  •  Their name
  •  The police station they are attached to
  •  The reason for the search
  •  Where the reasonable suspicion derives from
  •  Your entitlement to a copy of the search record.
  •  Plain clothes officers must show you their police ID.
  1. Failure to inform you of the above may render the search unlawful.
  2. As long as the police are not obstructed from carrying out their job, you, a friend or a member of the public are allowed to film the search, except where the police believe the footage will be used for acts of terrorism. You can also ask for the officer to switch on their body worn camera and request that the search is recorded.
  3. If the search is conducted in public, officers can only search your outer garments, including the pockets and your socks or shoes. A more thorough search must be conducted in private.
  4. The extent of the search must be proportionate and reasonable. For example, if you are stopped and searched as a robbery has taken place in the area and somebody has had their television stolen, it would not be reasonable for the officers to search the insides of your shoes.
  5. The police are allowed to use reasonable force to detain you whilst they carry out the search, so do not resist or obstruct the search and try to remain calm. In any event, the force used should be a last resort and must be proportionate and reasonable.
  6. You are entitled to a written record of the search at the end of the search. Make sure the record is completed in its entirety and in particular make sure the officer’s name, shoulder number and grounds for the search are clearly recorded.
  7. If you are unhappy with the way the search was carried out, or the conduct of the officer during the search, you have the right to make a complaint. As police body worn camera footage is retained for 31 days following the event, complaints need to be made promptly to prevent the evidence being deleted. Requests to view the body worn camera footage should also be made within the 31 day time frame.

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