Who polices the police?

We do. And most of us are not aware of our rights when interacting with the police. Many people are of the opinion that if you've nothing to hide, you should co-operate with the police completely, even to the extent of refusing legal council. If you're innocent, why do you need a solicitor? If you're that type of person, you're probably reading the wrong blog

I've blogged about this before, but it never hurts to go over it again. Here's a brief overview of police powers

A very brief overview. Please feel free to add to or correct errors in the comments.

One thing I've always drummed into Mrs Bucko is don't say anything without a solicitor. Anything. The right to silence has been scrapped in the UK. You still can refuse to answer questions but your silence can be 'interpreted' in court.

As long as you tell the police that you are staying silent only until you seek legal advice, which is your right, you're not actually refusing to answer questions so your silence cannot be misinterpreted.

That is in the case of an arrest. The police can also stop you for many reasons without actually arresting you.

I would advise you to keep a decent quality recording device in your car or about your person when walking. My voice recorder was a tenner on ebay and it's perfect. It fits in the pen pocket on my jacket, records for hours and I keep a fresh set of batteries in it. It also doubles as an MP3 player :-)

If you don't want to buy one, a mobile phone is fine. It is your right to film or record the police in any encounter, so make sure you have yours switched on a running before you engage in conversation and make sure the copper is aware of what you're doing.

Film, or at least record everything. Don't imagine that you can give a couple of short answers and be on your way, so it's not worth it. That may be the case, but it's best to cover your arse.

Another tip is to say as little as possible and venture as little information as possible. If you are obliged to give an answer, keep it short and to the point. Don't ramble on. Don't feel the need to fill silences. If the copper doesn't say anything after you have answered the question, don't take this as a sign that you have to offer more. Stop talking yourself. Stay quiet until asked another question or are asked to elaborate on your answer.

So what powers do the police have to stop you?

Stop and account.

Police and PCSO's in uniform have the right to ask you why you are in an area and what you are doing. (For the purposes of this post, when I say they 'have the right', I don't recognise it as a right, but it's written in law and you can get in trouble for refusal. )

The police can stop anyone in a public place and ask you to account for yourself. For example, you could be asked to account for your actions, behaviour, presence in an area or possession of anything. When the police stop you and ask you for an explanation, you don't need to provide your personal details. The police do not have to make a record or give you a receipt. But you may be asked to give your ethnicity.

My advice is to never give your details unless obliged to do so. A refusal will be met with astonishment and confusion by the average copper, but stick with it.

A copper knocked on my door because an armed robber had abandoned the getaway car in our alley. I had seen or heard nothing unfortunately, but he asked my date of birth. It confused the hell out of him when I asked why he needed it. He said it was so he knew I was over 18. I'm 37. I refused. That confused him even more and he went away scratching his head.

Also, don't give them you ethnicity. It only encourages them.

Stop and search.

The police can stop and search any person, vehicle, and anything in or on the vehicle for certain items. However, before they stop and search they must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that they will find:
  • stolen goods, or
  • drugs, or
  • an offensive weapon, or
  • any article made or adapted for use in certain offences, for example a burglary or theft, or
  • knives, or
  • items which could damage or destroy property, for example spray paint cans.

If you are subjected to a stop and search, ask them what their suspicion is for conducting the search. I am assuming you will not be in possession of any of the above, so make sure the police really do have reasonable grounds for the search before submitting to it. Make it clear you are filming / recording them.

Questioning the validity of the search is not reasonable grounds for a search. The police must have reasonable suspicion before stopping you, and must explain that suspicion.

If a serious violent incident has taken place, the police can stop and search you without having reasonable grounds for suspecting they will find the items.

The police can also search a football coach going to or from a football match if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting there is alcohol on board or that someone is drunk on the coach.

The police can also stop and search you or your vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you are a terrorist. But they do not need reasonable grounds if they have been given permission to carry out searches in a particular area.
In some circumstances a police officer of the rank of inspector or above can give the police permission to make stops and searches in an area for a certain amount of time - as long as this is for no more than 24 hours. When this permission is in force the police can search for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments whether or not they have grounds for suspecting that people are carrying these items.
An officer with the rank of assistant chief constable or above can also give permission for searches in an area in order to prevent acts of terrorism.

If you are told that one of these caveats applies, get full details before submitting to the search. These are blanket reasons for searches and reasonable grounds do not apply. They are all bollocks as far as liberty is concerned, particularly the football coach one, but they are still written in law and there is little you can do.

As long as you get the full facts from the officer conducting the search before it goes ahead, nature of violent incident, name of person giving permission for terrorist searches, boundaries of search area etc, you can seek legal advice after the fact, should it become necessary.

When the police stop and search you, they must provide you with the following information before the search can begin:
  • proof of their warrant card
  • information on police powers to stop and search
  • information on your rights
  • the police officer's name and police station
  • the reason for the search
  • what they think they might find when they search you.

Get it all and get it all on tape. Make sure they are aware you are recording them.

Police questioning

The police should not question you with a view to getting evidence until they have cautioned you. If you have been arrested, you must not be interviewed before being taken to the police station unless:
  • delay could lead to interference with or harm to evidence connected with the offence
  • delay could lead to physical harm to others
  • delay would alert someone suspected of committing an offence who has not yet been arrested
  • delay would hinder the recovery of property that is the subject of the offence.
If you are cautioned without having been arrested, you must be told you are free to leave whenever you want.

If you are being asked questions, clarify if you are being detained or if you are free to go. If you are being detained, say nothing until your are at the station, under caution and under the legal advice of a solicitor. If you are free to go, do so.

Vehicle stops.

The same precautions apply as with pedestrian stops. Record, don't talk more than necessary, get legal advice if you are being questioned about an offence.

There are also some other things you need to remember.

If you’re stopped, the police can ask to see your:
  • driving licence
  • insurance certificate
  • MOT certificate
If you don’t have these documents with you, you have 7 days to take them to a police station.

Never show these documents at the roadside. You may be confused or nervous when stopped in your car. Use your seven days grace to decide if it's ok to pop to the police station and show your documents or if you want to seek legal advice before doing so.

A routine stop and a request for documents is often simply that - routine. Use your seven days to make sure.

The police can stop a vehicle for any reason. If they ask you to stop, you should always pull over. You’re breaking the law if you don’t.

They can. You may not like it, but refusing to stop is going to cause you a great deal of pain. Stop the car, know your rights and you'll be ok.

If a traffic officer asks you to sit in his car while he talks to you, you don't need to do so. You may insist on speaking to the officer at the roadside if you wish.

Tip: You voice recorder will work a lot better in the back of the coppers car than on the side of a busy road.

The police may ask to search your vehicle. It may be a simple, polite question - "Do you mind if I take a quick look in the boot before you go?" Don't be fooled into thinking this will speed up the process and see you at home on the couch with a brew in no time.

Unless the police have reasonable suspicion that they will find something you should not be carrying, they have no rights to search and you should not allow them.

Refusal of a search is not reasonable suspicion for a search. They must have suspicion before asking the question.

The police can stop you at any time and ask you to take a breath test (‘breathalyse’ you) if:
  • they think you’ve been drinking
  • you’ve committed a traffic offence
  • you’ve been involved in a road traffic accident

The police can pull you over on a whim but they cannot make you take a breath test unless in the above three circumstances.

In a routine stop, where no offence has been committed and you are not involved in an accident, they must have suspicion you have been drinking.

I will not advise you to refuse a breath test if you do not believe they have reasonable suspicion as this has the potential to cause you a whole heap of trouble.

I would advise this: If you don't think they have grounds, ask what their suspicions are. Asking the question is not reasonable grounds. They must have suspicion before they ask you to take the test.

If you are still not satisfied, ask the office to confirm that the breath test is lawful under the current circumstances of this traffic stop. If he confirms this and you are still asked to take the test, take it.

Record everything and you can take legal advice later if necessary.

This is only intended to be a brief advisory, I invite you to do your own research so you can be fully prepared. Hopefully this will help in some small way.