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Drug Information - Stop and Search laws

What powers do the police have exactly?

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) determines:

  • Police powers to stop, search and arrest
  • Conditions of detention in police stations
  • Codes of practice governing treatment of prisoners
If the police suspect someone of possessing illegal drugs, importation or production, they have the power to:
  • Stop them.
  • Ask questions in order to determine whether grounds exist for a search.

What searches can police do?

A search without consent may only be carried out by the police on grounds of 'reasonable suspicion', such as furtive (suspicious) behaviour or a tip-off that the person in question has caused an offence. If so, the police must:
  • Identify themselves, giving their names and police station
  • Identify grounds for suspicion
  • Explain exactly what they're looking for
  • Inform the suspect that they will be able to see a copy of the record of the search within a year
A public search should only consist of a basic inspection of outer clothing (which can include turning out your pockets More intimate searches should be done by an officer of the same sex. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, police may take a suspect to the station without a formal arrest in order to conduct a more detailed search. Intimate searches of body orifices must be conducted by a doctor or nurse in a hospital of clinic, but only under written authority by a police superintendent who suspects a Class A drug (such as heroin or cocaine) has been concealed.

What about searching premises?

With consent from the occupier (or a warrant), police can enter and search premises at any reasonable time. Once police have been invited onto the premises (even for an unrelated matter), a drugs search can be undertaken if they have grounds for suspicion. Occupiers of a premise under search have a right to see a warrant, or a written outline of their rights. Without consent, however, police can only enter and search a premises:
  • following an arrest
  • to arrest someone for a serious offence that is visibly taking place at the time (i.e. drug-taking)
  • if further delay may enable a suspect to dispose of evidence (i.e. illegal drugs)
  • to execute a warrant for arrest
  • to recapture a suspect at large
  • to prevent a breach of the peace or if the premises is in the immediate vicinity of a seriously arrestable offence
Any evidence arising from such searches is admissible in court.

The charity Release gives advice on drugs and legal problems - their helpline number is 020 7749 4034.
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