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Stop and search - are the police really allowed to search you for no reason?

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows a police officer to stop and search you without suspicion. It is different from general stop and search powers where police officers must have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are carrying drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something that is going to be used to commit a crime.

In March 2019, the test for section 60 was altered so that the authorisation for a search could be given by an inspector rather than a superintendent and the test was reduced from a belief that violence “will” occur to “may” occur.

Searches under section 60 increased in London from 1,836 in 2017-18 to 9,599 in 2018-19. Combined figures for England and Wales show black people in 2018 – 2019 were 40 times more likely to be stopped, up from 14 times in 2017. The change in legislation and increase in section 60 searches are in contrast to a previous move away from indiscriminate stop and search, which was widely viewed as being ineffective and discriminatory.

In his campaign to become Prime Minister, Boris Johnson suggested that he would increase stop and search in order, in his view, to tackle knife crime. It is therefore likely that we are going to see a further increase in searches under section 60 CJPOA 1994 in London.

What are your rights?

Stop and account – the police are allowed to stop you and ask you what your name is, what you are doing in an area and where you are going. You do not have to stop or answer and this cannot be used as a reason to stop and search you.

Stop and search e.g. under section 1 PACE 1984, s23 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – the police are only allowed to stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are carrying drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something that is going to be used to commit a crime.

Stop and search under section 60 CJPOA 1994 – as long as the authorisation is valid, the police can stop and search you without any suspicion

What information must be given?

The police must tell you

  1. Their name and police station
  2. What they expect to find e.g. drugs
  3. The reason they want to search you
  4. Why they are legally allowed to search you
  5. That you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy

At the very least, even if it is an emergency, the officer must say his surname, police station and that it is, for example, a drugs search.

Can the police use force to search me?

  • Cooperation to search must be sought first and force can only be used if you refuse to be searched voluntarily.
  • Handcuffs can only be used if necessary, reasonable and proportionate to prevent escape or a violent breach of peace
  • The level of force used must be necessary, reasonable and proportionate

What happens if the police unlawfully stop and search me?

If you have been accused of an offence arising out of a stop and search and you think the police were acting unlawfully then this may be a defence to the allegation e.g. if you are accused of obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty.

For further advice, please get in touch by calling 020 7790 4032 (for out of hours, please call 07841 454 170) or by emailing