In the last few years, the police force has been in the news time and time again. In these last few months, it has been made especially clear that people need to know what exactly they can and can’t do when confronted by officers. So whilst you may hope you’ll never need it, it’s important that you know your rights when a police officer stops you. So here are the rules and rights for anyone in England and Wales.

What can the police ask?

UK police and your rights

An officer might stop you and ask your name, what you’re doing and where you’re going. You do not have to answer, nor do you have to stop. An officer cannot use failure to respond alone as a reason to search or arrest you.

When can a police officer stop and search?

An officer can stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds to believe that you might be carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something that could be used to commit a crime (i.e. a crowbar). You can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if approved by a senior officer. This may happen if you’re in a specific location, you are carrying a weapon or have used one, or serious violence may take place.

What are your rights with a stop and search?

stop and search UK

Before you’re searched by the officer, they must tell you their name and police station, what they expect to find, the reason they’re searching you (i.e. you look like you’re hiding something), why they are legally allowed to search you, and that you can have a record of the search.

During the search, they can ask you to take off your jacket, coat or gloves. They may also ask you to remove anything you’re wearing for religious reasons, like a turban or a veil. If they do, they must take you out of public view. If they want you to remove more than a jacket, then they must be the same sex as you.

Additionally, if English is not your first language, the officer must make reasonable efforts to ensure you understand why you have been stopped.

Officers must also make sure they keep the search time to a minimum, and must not detain you in order to find grounds for a search. They must also search you where you are stopped (unless they are moving for your privacy).

If you’ve been stopped by an officer, make sure you… 

  1. Avoid being verbally abusive. You may be angry, anxious, and on edge, but this can be seen as aggression and may escalate the situation.
  2. Ask for the grounds. This means they must then explain why they’re stopping you and what they expect to find.
  3. Ask for a search record. Make a note of the badge number, time and location. This will come in handy if you need to make a complaint.
  4. Check that what the officer says matches the search record.
  5. Know that you do not have to give your name or address unless the officer points out an offence you have committed (or that they suspect you have committed).

What happens if you’re stopped in a car?

UK police officer

An officer does not need to have reasonable grounds to stop you if you’re driving, as they can pull you over for a routine check. During which, they can ask you to provide your name, date of birth, driving licence, insurance and MOT certificate. Vehicles can also be searched where there is reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is carrying a person who has committed or is about to commit a crime.

What else can you do if you’re concerned?

Check with 999. 

If you are unsure that an officer is legitimate, dial 999 and check that they are who they say they are. Any officer should allow this.

Bring attention to yourself 

Stop someone walking past and ask them to stay with you, scream or shout to get attention, or even flag down a bus or taxi if you are concerned for your safety.

Ask for a marked car

If they are a plainclothes officer and do not have a marked car, or even if they do, but you still feel unsafe, ask them to call for a marked car and another officer.

Call a family member or friend

Call someone that you trust and let them know what’s happening. Keep them on the phone if you’re concerned.

Ask questions

Calmly ask things like “where are your colleagues?”, and ask to hear the operator on the other end of the radio to ensure they’re who they say they are.