Do you have to Answer Questions asked by the Police?

If you are stopped by a Police Officer and asked:

  1. What is your name and address?
  2. What you’re doing in the area?
  3. Where you’re going?

These questions are often referred to as ‘Stop and Account’. You do not have to stop or answer any of these questions and you remain free to leave at any time.If you are unsure whether you’re being stopped to account or being stopped to be searched, you can ask the Police Officer whether you’re being ‘detained’. If you are told that you are not being detained, then it is only a stop and account and you are free to leave.Should you choose not to provide answers and there is no other reason to suspect you, then the failure to provide such answers cannot be used as a reason alone to search or arrest you.

What Grounds Can You be Stopped and Searched:

A Police Officer has powers to search, if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying ‘illegal drugs, weapons, stolen property or any thing which could be used to commit a crime’.

Can You be Stopped and Searched without ‘Reasonable Grounds’?

Yes, but you can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds, if it has been approved by a Senior Police Officer under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.  This can happen if it is suspected that:

  1. Serious violence will take place
  2. You’re carrying a weapon or have used one
  3. You’re in a specific location or area

The rules surrounding ‘section 60’ searches have been relaxed in March 2019 for up to a year for seven police forces, which include: London, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester.

Under the new rules, the level of authorisation for a section 60 search has been reduced from Senior Officer to Inspector level.Furthermore, the level of certainty for the authorising Officer has been reduced from believing an incident involving serious violence ‘will’ occur to ‘may’ occur (read about the changes here).

Do the Police have to tell you why you’re being Searched?

Yes, before you’re searched the Police Officer must tell you:

  1. Their Name and Police Station;
  2. What they expect to find;
  3. The reason they want to search you;
  4. Why they are legally allowed to search you;
  5. Notify you that you can have a record of the search and how to obtain a copy;

You can ask for a copy of the Search Record within 12-months of the search being performed.

What is the Police Officer permitted to Search?

The Police can require you to remove outer clothing in public (e.g. coat, jacket, gloves). They can search these items by hand and ask you to turn them inside out.The Police can also ask you to take off any clothing for religious reasons. If they ask you to remove your religious clothing or ask to conduct a thorough search, this must be taken out of public view.It is important to note that the Police must provide a reason for the  need to search further. The reason for needing to conduct a detailed search cannot be simply that nothing had been found.

Can you be Strip Searched?

Yes, you can be strip searched, but this may only take place in a Police Station or in a designated area.Strip searches must therefore only be done out of public view and must only be done by an officer of the same sex (any officer of the opposite sex is not permitted to see).  Furthermore, if you are below the age of 17, an appropriate adult must be present during the search.

What can you do if you’re not happy about the Search?

If you believe the search was unlawful or if you are not happy about the way the search was carried out, you can make a complaint by telephone, in writing, online or in person at your local police station.


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