The police have various powers to stop and search individuals. When misused a person may later be able to pursue a complaint and/or civil claim against the police for false imprisonment, assault or breach of their human rights.

The main police stop and search powers are as follows:

S1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

This power can be used to stop anyone in a public place. A police officer can stop, detain and search a person or vehicle or anything in the vehicle for stolen or prohibited items. The police officer must have reasonable suspicion for suspecting they will find a prohibited item.  This stop and search power is frequently used by the police.

S23 Misuse of Drugs Act

The police often search individuals suspected of carrying drugs. Like the power under s1 of PACE, the police have to show that they have reasonable suspicion to suspect that a person is in possession of a controlled drug.

NOTE:  The police officer conducting the search is required to create a search record recording the object of the search, the grounds for making it, the date, time and place of conduct of the search and whether anything was found.  This search record or receipt should be provided at the scene but can also be obtained by the individual at a local police station.

NOTE: A police officer can ask an individual to remove outer clothing when conducting a search. If the police officer wants to remove more than outer clothing the search must be conducted by a person of the same sex. If an individual is asked to remove religious clothing e.g. a veil or turban, this must be done out of public view.

‘Stop and account’

This occurs when a person is approached by a police officer and asked to account for their behaviour, presence or any items in their possession. There is no law that allows police officers to require a person to ‘stop and account’ and an individual is not obliged to cooperate with the police. However, refusal to provide information may form grounds for reasonable suspicion to stop and search an individual under the statutory powers described above.

S60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

The police can stop and search any person or vehicle in a defined area within 24 hours without the need to establish reasonable suspicion. This power originally arose out of a need to tackle football hooliganism and is often used today to target low-level disorder, protests and knife crime.

Schedule 7 Terrorism Act 2000

The powers under the Terrorism Act allow ‘examining officers’ at ports and airports, to stop, question and detain individuals whom they suspect are involved in acts of terrorism, without the need for any reasonable suspicion.

Stopping motorists under the Road Traffic Act 1988

The police have the power to stop a vehicle for any reason and an individual will be committing a criminal offence if they fail to stop. A police officer can ask to see an individual’s driving licence, insurance documents or MOT certificate. If these documents are not provided at the time an individual must provide them to a police station within 7 days.


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