Stop and search: your rights
The police can stop and search you to look for evidence of a crime, but they must do so in a way that complies with the law and police codes of practice.
A ‘stop’ is when a police officer or police community support officer stops you and asks you to account for yourself by asking you a question, for instance about why you are in a particular area, or about what you are carrying.
Only a police officer or uniformed police community support officer can stop you. If the police officer is not in uniform, they must show you their identity card.
You cannot be stopped or searched just because of:
- your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or belief
- the way you look or dress
- the language you speak, or
- the fact that you have been convicted of a crime in the past.
Officers will give you a form explaining why you were stopped or searched, and giving contact information.
If an officer is unable to give you the full form, they will give you a receipt instead. You can obtain a copy of the full form from a police station at any time in the following 12 months.
Not all encounters count as a ‘stop’. For example, if an officer is looking for witnesses to a crime, or giving you directions, this would not normally count; however, you still have the right to ask for a form, which the officer must complete and give to you.
Only a police officer can carry out a search on you, and usually only then if they have good reason to suspect that you are carrying certain items. In England and Wales these are:
- drugs, weapons or stolen property
- items which could be used:
- to commit a crime
- to commit an act of terrorism, or
- to cause criminal damage.
In Scotland, the police can also stop and search you if they suspect you are carrying any of these things:
- alcohol, if you are at certain major football or rugby matches or on public transport travelling to such an event
- evidence in relation to an offence under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002
- cash, or the cash equivalent of £1,000 or more, which is the result of criminal activity, or
- fireworks that you intend to use anti-socially.
You can be stopped and searched in a public place or anywhere else if the police believe that you have committed a crime. The search should be carried out with care and sensitivity. However, if the police officer asks you to remove more than your coat, jacket and gloves, or to remove anything that you wear for religious reasons, such as a veil or turban, they must take you out of public view. The police officer carrying out this search must also be of the same sex as you.
There are a number of things the officer searching you must tell you, including:
- the law under which they are stopping or searching you
- their name
- their station
- what they are looking for
- why you’ve been stopped (unless it’s a terrorist stop), and
- that you have the right to be given a record of the search.
In order to track the fairness and equity of stop and search, police will ask you to identify your ethnicity for their records. This information is used solely to ensure that no particular ethnic group is being disproportionately targeted.
You do not have to give the officer your name and address, but it is helpful should you wish to complain. The police will keep your information on file in case they need to contact you later. If you have any concerns about the information that the police may hold on you, you can ask to see it.
If you decide not to tell them your name and address, you cannot be arrested for this reason only.
You should keep the form or receipt that the officer gives you, as it is your only record of the event and will be crucial if you want to make a complaint.
In Scotland, police powers are different although before carrying out a search a police officer must provide their grounds for a search. For certain searches (for example, under anti-terrorism powers) the same right applies to request a written statement in relation to the search.
Note also in Scotland that it is a criminal offence to refuse to provide your name and address to a police officer, if requested to do so.
Read more detailed information about your rights under stop and search:
Last Updated: 24 Jun 2009