police power

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police power

The powers of a police officer in England and Wales to stop and search, arrest and place a person under detention are contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The legislation and the code of p,ractice set out the powers and responsibilities of officers in the investigation of offences, and the rights of citizens.

An officer is liable to disciplinary proceedings if he or she fails to comply with any provision of the codes, and evidence obtained in breach of the codes may be ruled inadmissible in court. The code must be readily available in all police stations for consultation by police officers, detained people and members of the public.

Stop and Search

A police officer in England and Wales has the power to stop and search people and vehicles ifthere are reasonable grounds for suspecting that he or she will find stolen goods, offensive weapons or implements that could be used for theft, burglary or other offences. The officer must, however, state and record the grounds for taking this action and what, if anything, was found.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 enables a senior police officer to authorise uniformed officers to stop and search people or vehicles for offensive weapons, dangerous implements where he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that serious incidents of violence may take place. The officer must specify the time-scale and area in which the powers are to be exercised.


In England and Wales the police have wide powers to arrest people suspected of having committed an offence with or without a warrant issued by.a court. For serious offences, known as 'arrestable offences', a suspect can be arrested without a warrant. Arrestable offences are those for which five or more years' imprisonment can be imposed. This category also includes 'serious arrestable offences' such as murder, rape and kidnapping.

There is also a general arrest power for all other offences if it is impracticable or inappropriate to send out a summons to appear in court, or if the police officer has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to prevent the person concerned from causing injury to any other person or damage to property.

Detention, Treatment and Questioning

An arrested person must be taken to a police station (if he or she is not already at one) as soon as practicable after arrest. At the station, he or she will be seen by the custody officer who will consider the reasons for the arrest and whether there are sufficient grounds for the person to be detained. The Code of Practice under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act made it clear that juveniles should not be placed in the cells. Most police stations should have adetention room for those juveniles who need to be detained. The suspect has a right to speak to an  independent solicitor free of charge and to have a relative or other named person told of his or her arrest. Where a person has been arrested in connection with a serious arrestable offence, but has not yet been charged, the police may delay the exercise of these rights for up to 36 hours in the interests of the investigation if certain strict criteria are met.


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