Stop and Search: Know Your Rights

Abdul and Sunil examined the corridor. There were no teachers around. The coast was clear. “Where do you wanna cotch today?” Abdul asked. “Guess?” Sunil replied. Abdul thought for a moment and then smiled. They felt like they were doing a ‘mission impossible,’ like a couple of movie actors; a bit like ‘Tango & Cash.’

Know Your Statistics!

Tens of thousands of people have been stopped in the street and searched unlawfully under controversial section 44 anti-terrorism powers, the Home Office has revealed in June 2009.

Counter-terrorism efforts by police include the use of Section 44, which permits police the use of stop and search against anyone in any area, on grounds of suspicion of terrorism. This police power is part of the Terrorism Act 2000. Prior to this, police could only stop individuals on the basis of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and provided certain criteria where met. With section 44, such criteriaare no longer necessary, due to the urgency of the counterterrorism eff orts which section 44 is supposedly for.

Most of the searches have been done by London Metropolitan Police, which leapt after the attempted bombings of West End London. Regular stop and search frequency also increased for the fourth successive time in a row, reaching over 1 million. Again, like the Section 44 stop and searches, most of the ordinary stop and searches where carried out in London. Given that 90% of section 44 stops where in London alone and most ordinary stops where also in London, let’s assume 90% of these stops where undertaken in the capital.

With a population of 7.5 million, that means that over 1 in 6 of us have been stopped and searched by police in London alone, all within a year. In addition, of the section 44 stops from the 124,687 a total of 1,271 arrests where made related to non-terrorist off ences, where only 73 could be connected to terrorism. That equates to less that 0.06% of section 44 stop and searches leading to a related arrest.

This clearly indicates that police powers from legislation put in place to tackle terrorism are being
highly abused. Both opposition parties had views on this Lib Dem spokesperson – Chris Huhne “There is a real risk that indiscriminate or excessive use of stop and search may alienate the communities we rely most on for intelligence, which is a far more crucial tool in the fi ght against terrorism.”

There is a real concern, not just by MPs, but also by civil liberty campaigners and us regular folk. A danger is that police are alienating themselves against the public, particularly after the G20 protest mistakes where Ian Tomlinson later died. And it’s not just the general public, but ethnic groups, with black people eight times more likely to be stopped. Home Offi ce minister Vernon Coaker feels it is important that police have the right powers to fight terrorism, who recently said “stop and search is aimed at disrupting crime and responding to intelligence and levels of risk. It is an important tool – helping to tackle knife crime and to fight terrorism.” Gareth Crossman from Civil rights group Liberty does recognise terrorist threats, although states that “exceptional powers of stopand-search without suspicion should only be used when facing specifi c threats”.

Know Your Rights!

Police do have authority, but that does not mean they can talk to you any way they like. You have the right to be talked to fairly and with respect. Just remember that you have done nothing wrong so keep your cool. And I guess for those who have done something against the law, it’s the same advice, keep cool and relaxed as screaming and shouting will just make matters worse.


If you’re stopped by police, you have the right to ask for:

  • Name(s) of the officer(s)
  • The station where they are based
  • Why they have stopped you

If you are asked, you must give your name and address but you are not obliged to answer any legal questions without advice from legal aid. Your clothing (only the outer layer) can be searched if you are suspected of carrying:

  • Controlled drugs
  • Offensive weapon or firearms
  • Carrying a sharp article (e.g.knives, screw drivers)
  • Carrying stolen goods

If you are in a coach or train going to or you have arrived at a sports stadium If you think you are being unlawfully searched, the advice given is to allow the search to commence but take lawful action later. Resisting arrest will not do you any favours.


You always have the right:

To be treated humanely and with respect

  • To see the written codes governing your rights and how you are treated
  • To speak to the custody offi cer (the offi cer who must look after your welfare) to know why you have been arrested
  • Have a phone call made to let someone know about your arrest
  • To consult your solicitor alone

If you are under the age of 17 police cannot question you at a police station without a parent or carer present. If they are not present then an appropriate adult must be found e.g. a relative or family friend.

The police can only keep you for a certain period of time – normally a maximum of 24 hours (36 hours for a serious offence). Whatever your age, you have the right to speak to the free duty solicitor to obtain advice. Always ask for the solicitor. It is always recommended that you answer no comment to questions, do not write or sign statement until you ,have seen a solicitor.


If you have to go to court and are aged 10 -17 you are taken to the Youth Court. If you are 18 and above, you will go to the Magistrates Court. At court you will be found either guilty, not guilty or the case could be dropped. If you are found not guilty you are free to go and also get back any property of yours that the Police have.

Wrongful Arrest

If you want to challenge anything the police have done, then try and get the names and addresses of any witnesses.

Also it is handy to make a written record of the event. It should be witnessed, dated and signed. If you are injured or property is damaged then take photographs or video recordings as soon as possible and have physical injuries medically examined.


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