New guidance

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.

Particular situations

The next part of this guide looks at particular organisations and situations:

  • Police
  • Prisons and similar institutions, such as young offender institutions
  • Probation services and criminal justice social work services
  • National security
  • Criminal courts, civil courts and tribunals


Equality law applies to the police just as it does to any other organisation providing services to the public or a section of the public or carrying out public functions.

That means that police forces, police officers and anyone who is working for the police must do what equality law says.

This applies whether you come into contact with the police as a victim of crime, a witness to crime, as someone who is being stopped and searched, or when being questioned or arrested as a suspect, or charged with an offence, or in any other way, for example, as a solicitor representing someone during an interview at a police station.

Decisions by police officers about actions such as:

  • stopping you in the street and searching you (‘stop and search’)
  • handing out a fixed penalty notice
  • arresting you
  • interviewing you as a suspect
  • cautioning you, or
  • charging you

wherever these take place, must not be based on your protected characteristics but on evidence.

You can find out more about your rights under laws other than equality law at:


In England and Wales and in Scotland, the police can stop and search you without a search warrant. Several different laws allow them to do this. Some require the police to have reasonable suspicion that you are committing, or about to commit, a crime and are carrying something illegal. Others are based on specific locations for a particular time and are aimed at stopping incidents of serious violence or terrorism. If you are stopped, the police officer stopping you should provide their name and station location and explain under what law you have been stopped.

The police’s own rules say that you should not be stopped or searched just because of your disability, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation (or your age, the way you dress or because you’ve committed a crime in the past).

The search must be made by a police officer of the same sex as you.

Some of the rules about stop and search are slightly different in England and Wales and in Scotland.

In England and Wales: if the officer asks you to take off more than your outer coat, jacket or gloves, or asks you to take off anything you wear because of your religion or belief, they must take you somewhere out of public view.

You will be asked what you describe your ethnic origin as. You do not have to give this information, but the reason for this is to help the police (and organisations who check on what the police are doing) to help them understand if one particular group of people is being stopped and searched more than another group.

In Scotland: every search must be done in as private a place as possible and out of the view of people of the opposite sex. An officer cannot ask you to take off more than your outer coat, jacket or gloves or ask you to take off anything you wear because of your religion or belief without a search warrant. 

More information

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