Can the police stop and strip search?
The focus on police powers to strip search came under scrutiny in the national press this week. The cases of minors ‘Child Q’ and ‘Olivia’ have raised sharp focus on how individuals can protect themselves, their children or vulnerable members of the community when stopped by the police.
To assist, Garrick Law’s expert legal team share their knowledge of the do’s and don’ts of police searches.
When can the Police legitimately search?
The Police in England and Wales can stop and searches under the following provisions:
- Section 1, Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – if they have reasonable grounds’to suspect someone of carrying illegal substances, weapons, stolen property and/or an object which can be used to commit or further a crime.
- Section 60, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 – if they deem an individual is in a designated area without reasonable grounds.
- Sections 44 & 47A, Terrorism Act 2000 – if they have a reasonable suspicion an act of terrorism will occur.
Searches in public places are limited to requesting a detained person remove their outer clothing; coat, jacket, gloves, shoes, hat or any item concealing their identity. Officers are permitted to search, handle and touch the inside of shoes, socks or headgear if they believe something may be concealed within. Removal of jumpers, shirts, t shirts or religious clothing or items is permitted and dubbed a ‘more thorough search’.
Strip searches can only be conducted if an officer has a specific reason to search you further, namely that they have grounds to believe that you have an illegal item concealed under your clothing or inside your body. The reason for the strip search must be articulated to the detained person by the searching officer.
Strip Search Rules
- A strip search is only permitted out of public view – They may only take place in a healthcare setting or in police custody;
- There must be no physical contact in a strip search;
- They must be carried out by a police officer of the same gender as the detainee;
- There must be at least two people present, other than the detainee;
- They must be carried out with proper regard to the dignity, sensitivity, and vulnerability of the detainee;
- Every reasonable effort must be made to secure the detainee’s co-operation, maintain dignity, and minimise embarrassment;
- Detainees can be asked to hold arms aloft, or bend forwards so that a visual examination of the genitalia and anal areas can be undertaken;
- Detainees should not be required to remove all their clothes at the same time, unless there is an exceptional reason for doing so.
Strip Search Rules for Minors
- Anyone who is aged 17 and under must have an Appropriate Adult present, save for cases of urgency, where there is a risk of harm to the detainee or to others;
- The child’s parent or guardian must also be notified and their consent obtained;
- If the searches extends to examination of intimate parts two people (one of whom must be the Appropriate Adult) must be present with the detainee.
Remember the basic rule; if you are uncomfortable you must ask for more privacy. If such a request is denied, then insist that a note is made on the police records or your custody detention log.
Intimate Search Rules
- An intimate search is the physical examination of the body orifices, other than the mouth;
- This can extend past a visual to a physical examination;
- Only an arrested detainee can be intimately searched;
- Only a registered forensic medical practitioner or nurse can undertake an intimate search, unless an officer of at least the rank of inspector deems it impracticable.
- two persons must be present with the detainee. If the detainee is under 17 then one attendee must be the appropriate Adult.
What should I do if I risk being wrongly strip or intimately searched?
- Stay calm to help ensure a clear and quick resolution;
- Be polite and make eye contact to keep your emotions in check;
- Politely ask questions about the process so you understand what is about to happen and the officer has to account for their actions;
- Ask for a Receipt which provides written confirmation of the search;
- Ask the officer if they are wearing a body worn camera. If so, ask them to activate their camera to record their dealings with you. Alternatively, inform the officer that you seek to exercise your right to record the search and explain you are reaching for your recording device;
- Make notes of your recollection as soon as practicable, so you have an accurate record of events;
- If you are arrested, Ask for a solicitor as soon as practicable.