UK police wants to search me on a public road - do I have a choice?
September 25, 2008 12:07 PM   Subscribe

UK police wants to search me on a public road - do I have a choice?

I just got searched by a bunch of cops on a public street in London.
For the third time in two months. I'm tired of this.

(Previous searches have been at a tube station and outside a shopping mall.)

The cops are usually kind and civil but I am being told I have no choice but to allow them to pad me down. These are instances where they do this to almost everyone walking past them. Often they bring a metal detector gate with them. The usual explanation is that they are trying to prevent knife-crime.

The Metropolitan Police website tells me that indeed I do not have a choice but to submit to such searches. I may not have to give my name or assist them in any way but I cannot deny them this search.

Are they correct? What is the legal situation here?
posted by krautland to Law & Government (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ask a qualified person to go over these questions with you.
posted by Science! at 12:23 PM on September 25, 2008

This PDF explains your rights in a Stop & Search situation.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:42 PM on September 25, 2008

This is known as Stop and Search, and it sounds like the second item in that table, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, would authorize such searches.

You can read the relevant laws online if you like.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:44 PM on September 25, 2008

I can't speak for the UK, but I imagine it's similar to the US. Theoretically, you have the right against being unlawfully searched. Practically, not so much. Refusing a search generally makes them believe you have something to hide. If a cop wants to search you, they'll make up a reason and do it. Even if it ain't right, in most cases it will be your word vs. theirs, and guess who the judge is going to believe?
posted by gnutron at 12:46 PM on September 25, 2008

What Science! linked to is the checklist for an ordinary stop and search. I've read that the knife-crime related searches you've been a party to are carried out under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order act under which they can search for weapons ONLY.
They can't compel you to talk to them, not even to identify yourself.

posted by atrazine at 12:49 PM on September 25, 2008

Best answer: OK, so here's the law:

60. F1 (1) If a police officer of or above the rank of inspector reasonably believes—
[...] that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in any locality in his police area without good reason, he may give an authorisation that the powers conferred by this section are to be exercisable at any place within that locality for a specified period not exceeding 24 hours.
(4) This section confers on any constable in uniform power (a) to stop any pedestrian and search him or anything carried by him for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments;
(5) A constable may, in the exercise of [the powers conferred by subsection (4) above], stop any person or vehicle and make any search he thinks fit whether or not he has any grounds for suspecting that the person or vehicle is carrying weapons or articles of that kind.
(8) A person who fails [...] to stop, or to stop a vehicle; [...] when required to do so by a constable in the exercise of his powers under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale or both.
(10A) A person who is searched by a constable under this section shall be entitled to obtain a written statement that he was searched under the powers conferred by this section if he applies for such a statement not later than the end of the period of twelve months from the day on which he was searched.

If you're in London it's reasonable to believe there are people with knives about if you consider a wide enough area. As such, all it takes is a daily written authorization and you can be subject to "any search a constable thinks fit" and if you refuse or run you can be imprisoned for a month.

However, you can get a written statement that you were searched, so if you are being unfairly targeted (such as due to your race) you can collect evidence pretty easily.

Another option would be to cross the street or take another route before getting to the police search point/being asked to stop.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:03 PM on September 25, 2008

Either way I would complain to your elected officials, especially if you have been searched multiple times in a short period.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2008

Follow on from Mike1024's post, this link tells you what your rights are:


If it's just in places like tube stations and shopping centres, where everyone is stopped, then you're not being targetted because of who you are - it's just what happens if you live in London. If it's more random, then you may have scope to complain. The jury is still out on the success of "stop and search" as a technique for preventing crime, and there are some serious questions about racial profiling that The Met haven't yet answered convincingly.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:57 PM on September 25, 2008

I can't speak for the UK, but I imagine it's similar to the US.

That's a very bad assumption.
posted by GPF at 3:35 PM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

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