Police powers

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(Module 2568: Machinery of Justice)


Police officers on patrol believe that a man that they see, Shane, is a suspect wanted for burglary.   Outline the powers of the police to stop and search and if necessary to arrest the man.

The police have the power to stop and search both people and vehicles in a public place under sections 1 to 7 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).  They can only do this if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting Shane of carrying some stolen goods or prohibited articles like drugs or offensive weapons.   In Shane’s case this can also include articles for use in connection with burglary or theft.  However, there are safeguards built in to ensure no one is being picked on or harassed in any way.  The police must give their name and station and the reason for the search, otherwise it is unlawful as was shown in Osman 1999 where Mr Osman was found not guilty of assaulting an officer because the officer did not give a reason for the search.

Since Shane is on the street, only his outer clothing can be searched and the police must make a written report as soon as possible after the search.   Code of Practice A states that the police must not act just because of a person’s characteristics, such as their race, hairstyle or manner of dress.   Even if Shane had previous convictions for possessing an unlawful article, this alone cannot be used as a reason to stop and search him.   In practice, the police do often have stereotypes of what a criminal type is and often stop people for the simple reason that they look like they did something wrong.   Despite the MacPherson Report, following the death of Stephen Lawrence, Home Office statistics show that black people are still five times more likely than other groups to be stopped and searched.

Section 24 of PACE allows the police to arrest someone if they are in the act of committing, or have committed, an arrestable offence or if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that person to be committing, or have committed, an arrestable offence.  Besides the private citizen having some of these rights of arrest as well, the police have an additional power to arrest someone who is about to, or is suspected of being about to, commit an arrestable offence.   Section 25 allows the police to arrest someone like Shane if they cannot discover his name and address, such as if he refuses to speak or runs off, or if they have reasonable grounds for believing that the name and address given by Shane is false.    

Shane has been arrested by the police and the taken to the police station.  Discuss the extent of any protections he enjoys while at the police station

In order to protect someone like Shane when detained at a police station, there are a lot of rights he enjoys that come under PACE, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPOA) and Code of Practice C.   Firstly, he should not be held for longer than 24 hours (36 if a serious arrestable offence) but this can be extended to 96 hours by the Magistrates court if necessary although he has a right to challenge this.   The detention must be reviewed by the custody officer within 6 hours of detention and thereafter every 9 hours.   The custody officer must release him if there are no grounds for keeping him and he/she must record all events that take place such as interviews or visits to Shane’s cell by police officers.   Under Code of Practice C, the custody officer must also inform Shane of his right to have someone informed of his arrest, such as a relative or friend (Section 56 of PACE), although this can be withheld for up to 36 hours if it is a serious arrestable offence or if there are reasonable grounds for believing that person may interfere with the evidence they need on Shane.   Shane must also be told of his right to free legal advice from the duty solicitor at the station or to a solicitor of his own choice.   The case of Samuel 1988 shows that if denied access to a lawyer then any evidence gathered at an interview may not be admissible in court.   The custody officer must also inform Shane of his right to consult with the Codes of Practice so that Shane can read more about his rights.

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If questioned, then any interviews must be tape-recorded and if possible video-taped.  Shane has the right to have a solicitor present at any interview unless he chooses not to have one or if difficult to get one before the interviewing starts.   If Shane is under 17 or if mentally ill, he has a right to have an “appropriate adult” present during all interviews (Aspinall 1999).   Under Section 76 of PACE, he should not be forced or tortured against his will to give evidence and he must also be given enough breaks for meals, refreshments and sleep.   ...

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A competent response. This student understands the main provisions of PACE well. 4 Stars