The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a positive obligation to prevent and detect crime in order to protect our communities from harm and build a safe, confident and peaceful society. Stop and Search is an operational tool used to prevent, detect and investigate crime as well as to bring offenders to justice.
Police officers have a legal power to stop and search members of the public in certain circumstances, from dealing with the unlawful possession of controlled drugs through to countering terrorism. Officers will treat members of the public in keeping with the Police Service's core values of fairness, courtesy and respect.
The Police Service recognises that stopping and searching members of the public is a significant intrusion into their lives and are committed to ensuring that these powers are used in a way that’s fair, lawful, proportionate, justifiable and accountable.
In most circumstances a police officer will need reasonable grounds to search you. Some stop and search powers, for example, those under Article 23B of the Public Order (Northern Ireland).
Order 1987 or Section 24 Schedule 3 to the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007 allow a police officer to search you without reasonable suspicion, however, a police officer must have a basis in order to search a person by virtue of an authorisation under Section 24 Schedule 3 to the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007.
In 2020 the Police Service formed a stop and search working group focused on children and young people, with a number of organisations from both the statutory and voluntary sectors. This group continues to work together with the aim of advising and informing the Police Service in its work, to ensure that stop and search powers are used in a legally compliant, fair and appropriate manner.
Officers must follow rules set out in codes of practice relating to stop and search, these outline how you should be treated and what rights you have. You can view this legislation here:
- Police and Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1989
- Misuse Drugs Act 1971
- Terrorism Act 2000
- Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007
The Code of Practice for the exercise by police officers of statutory powers of stop and search (Code A) outlines the recording requirements on police officers, with regards to stop and search.
4. Recording requirements
(a) Searches which do not result in an arrest
4.1 When an officer carries out a search in the exercise of any power to which this Code applies and the search does not result in the person searched or person in charge of the vehicle searched being arrested and taken to a police station, a record must be made of it electronically by the officer. A unique reference number and guidance on how to obtain a full copy of the record must be provided to the person searched unless there are exceptional circumstances which make this wholly impracticable (e.g. in situations involving public disorder or when the recording officer’s presence is urgently required elsewhere). If for any reason an electronic record cannot be made or the reference number cannot be provided at the time, the person must still be provided with the advice on how they can obtain the record. If a record is to be made, the officer carrying out the search must make the record on the spot unless this is not practicable, in which case, the officer must make the record as soon as practicable after the search is completed.
4.2 If the record is made at the time, the person who has been searched or who is in charge of the vehicle that has been searched must be provided with a receipt which explains how they can obtain a copy of the full record.
4.2A An officer is not required to provide a receipt at the time if they are called to an incident of higher priority.
In situations where it is not practicable to provide a written record of the record or immediate access to an electronic copy of the record or a receipt of the search at the time (see paragraph 4.2A above), the officer should consider providing the person with details of the station to which the person may attend for a copy of the record. This may take the form of a simple business card which includes sufficient information to locate the record should the person ask for a copy, for example, the date and place of the search, the searching officers police service number or a reference number.
If the constable who conducted a search of a person made a record of it, the person who was searched shall be entitled to a copy of the record if he or she asks for it before the end of 12 months, beginning with the date on which the search was made. The person searched can obtain a copy of their search record by attending a police station and requesting it in person. Note – useful information which can assist in locating the search record (on attending the police station) is the date and place of the search, the searching officers police service number or a reference number.
The Police Can Stop and Search You For Reasons Including:
- If there has been serious violence or disorder in the area.
- If the police are looking for a suspect who fits your description.
- If the police have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying drugs, a weapon or stolen property.
- In countering terrorism.
If You Are Subject to a Stop and Search:
- Being stopped does not mean that you are under arrest or that you have necessarily done something wrong.
- If you are stopped, you are required to stay for the duration of the search. If necessary you will be prevented from walking away.
- Officers must use the search powers fairly, responsibly and with respect for people without discriminating.
- Officers must make sure that the search time is kept to a minimum.
- The search must take place near to where you were stopped, except on occasions where moving you would protect your privacy.
- There is no power for police to require a person to remove any clothing in public other than an outer coat, jacket, headgear or gloves except under Article 23A of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 (which empowers a constable to require a person to remove any item worn to conceal identity).
Stop and Search Under Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007:
The Police Service fully understand and accept that scrutiny and accountability support the development of a better and more effective police service and as such the use of the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007 is subject to an extensive internal and external governance and scrutiny process:
- Authorisation for the use of stop and search can only be given by an Assistant Chief Constable following the presentation of a detailed case.
- There is no ‘blanket’ application of these powers. An authorisation which is considered necessary for a specified area or place, and duration, up to maximum of 14 days is applied. After this, an entirely new application must be made by police to use this power.
- The Secretary of state must be informed of an authorisation as soon as reasonably practicable after it is given and must confirm an authorisation if it is to last longer than 48 hours.
- A rigorous regime is in place to ensure that the powers are always used in accordance with law and appropriately.
- The Police Service’s use of Stop and Search has, and will continue to be, scrutinized by the Policing Board’s Human Rights advisers, the Police Ombudsman and the Independent Reviewer of Justice and Security act.
Stop and Search Scrutiny:
- District supervision checks
- Assurance reviews
- Quarterly governance meetings chaired at Assistant Chief Constable level
- Northern Ireland Policing Board
- Independent reviewer – David Seymour CB
- Northern Ireland Courts Service
- Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland: View our Stop and Search video to know your rights.