Powers of Stop and Search. Pre-PACE the powers of stop-search were ill defined through common law.

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The law on the powers of stop and search, developed through both common and statute law, are primarily found under Code A of the Codes of Practice and section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). Prior to PACE, police were granted powers to stop and search under the Vagrancy Act 1824 which became recognised as the ‘sus’ laws. S.4 allowed the police to stop and search individuals if they suspected that they were loitering in a public place in order to commit an offence.

Pre-PACE the powers of stop-search were ill defined through common law. In Jackson v Stevenson the court held that the police were unauthorised to stop and search someone, whether or not they had sufficient grounds to arrest the individual.  Rice v Connolly provides that a person does not need to answer the questions of the police unless they are under arrest. In succession, Kenlin v Gardiner the courts held that the police must first arrest an individual before questioning him. Through these cases it has been demonstrated that the stop and search powers may have resulted in a lot of time wasted and unnecessary arrests which may have caused confusion.

Historically, many laws passed only applied to those who lived in London and various other cities; under s.66 Metropolitan Police Act 1839 the London police were given the power to stop-search individuals or vehicles which they supposed were carrying stolen property. Later, Daniel v Morrison held that this included the power to detain for the purpose of questioning. Where these powers were not yet put into force, the police used the ‘ways and means Act’ involving powers from the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 whereby if the police suspected an individual ‘loitering’ they could stop to question them, however this was not documented. This portrayed inequality where people maintained that the police were hiding behind the Act to attain obedience from any person they chose to stop. The Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure criticised the legislation on powers of stop and search pre-PACE where they only applied to some big cities and were not national.

The means of which the pre-PACE powers were executed were also criticised after the Brixton riots of 1981 by Lord Scarman in his report ‘The Brixton Disorders:10-12 April 1981’ where he stressed the destructive costs of ethnic disproportionality in stops and searches. The report suggests that the ratio had not taken place on a fair decision of whether the police had reasonable grounds to suspect the individual. Soon after the report, PACE was set into force.

The majority of the ‘sus’ laws were revoked and substituted by PACE, under s.1(2) the police have the power to ‘detain’ and search an individual or a vehicle if they, under s.1(3) have the reasonable grounds for suspecting that they will find ‘prohibited articles’, ‘offensive weapons’ or the possession of fireworks in breach of fireworks regulations. If a constable had the reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual is about to or has committed an offence under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or has committed an offence under the Theft Act 1968, he may stop and search for items which may have been used or acquired in relation to the offence.

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Under s.1(7-9) PACE ‘offensive weapons’ are objects which have been altered to cause harm to another. Whether an article is considered an offensive weapon would depend on the manner in which it was found as shown in the cases of Buckley v DPP and Southwell v Chadwick. In Buckley a machete which was found wrapped in a newspaper and hidden in the boot of a car was considered an offensive weapon. However as the machete found in Southwell was found in its sheath it was not considered an offensive weapon. Prohibited articles are considered as objects which have been altered to aid offences including ...

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