Police and Criminal Act

The regulations on arrest and detention of offenders under the Police and Criminal Act (PACE) 1984 create a fair balance between the rights of suspected offenders and the police’s ability to investigate, detects and prevent criminal activity. Discuss. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 is governing act which sets out the majority of police powers including arrest, detention, and interrogation. Furthermore, the codes of practice which offers guidance and recommendations when officers are carrying out there work are set out in PACE[1].

The act was introduced as a response to the loss of confidence in the police during the 70’s and 80’s as a result of the high profile miscarriages of justices such as that of The Guildford Four. As a result, PACE was introduced and designed to stop the exploitation of powers by those in an authority position such as gaining false confessions through means of violence and torture. Overall, the act is designed to create a balance between the powers of the police and the human rights of a suspect or other members of public[2].

However, the balance that is intended to be created is far from a reality, there are still high profile miscarriages of justices, corruption within the police force, and the unfair treatment of ethnic minorities and the general public. During the year of 1824, the Vagrancy Act (1824) was introduced which authorised the local authority to stop, search and arrest anyone who was loitering or suspected of committing a crime. The act was considered an important aspect of keeping law and order and the prevention of crime and was passed down throughout the years with each officer and police force and became known as the ‘sus’ laws.

However, throughout the years there was a distinct pattern in who was stopped and who was arrested for suspected crimes and loitering in that the majority of suspects brought forward were from the working class. Therefore, the act only worked if the force was to be rid of any prejudices as those from the lower working class were prejudiced against as being the ones who were most likely to commit a crime. As the years moved on, the prejudice from the working class moved and focused itself on ethnic minorities- especially young, black males, around 42% of those arrested under the ‘sus’ law were young, black males.

This further increased tension and resentment between the police and the public which was one of the leading factors in the riots that broke out in Brixton, Handsworth, Chapeltown, and Toxteth during the 1980’s. [3] Another increasing factor which was a cause of the riots were the increasing amount of cases brought about by the old ‘sus’ laws in which the majority of the suspects were from an ethnic minority background. During the month of April 1981, the police launched Operation Swamp 81 in Brixton, London.

This aimed to decrease street crime in Buxton in which the police stopped and searched over a 1000 people under the ‘sus’ laws. As a result, tensions increased after rumours had spread about a black youth who had been left to die by the police and over 200 young people (of predominately Afro-Caribbean heritage) turned on the police. Further police patrols were put out which led to increased searches of young, Afro-Caribbean males and the tensions reached boiling point as riot erupted on the streets of Brixton. As the news reached nation-wide coverage, further riots erupted in Birmingham, Leeds, and Liverpool[4].

After the riots had been stopped, the old ‘sus’ laws were eventually repealed which was one of the predominant reasons to the introduction of PACE. Despite the introduction of PACE in order to reduce the growing tension between the police force and the public, to reinstate confidence within the police force, and to reduce the number of miscarriages of justices, there are still problems within PACE with creating a fair balance between the police and a suspect as well as still allowing room for the police to abuse their power. One such problem occurs under s.

50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (which was an extension on the PACE Act) in which the officer can require a suspect who is behaving in an anti-social manner to give their name and address. Failure to do so is now constituted as an offence and creates the ground for arrest. However, this significant extension of police power can easily lead to the harassment of suspects and the abuse of police powers. Therefore, the balance that is aimed to create through PACE is still in the favour of the police who could use this power to arrest a suspect based on personal prejudices and feelings. [5] Furthermore under s.

44 of the Terrorism Act (2000), the police can carry out random stop and searches without any grounds for suspicion through the Home Secretary who clandestinely authorises the police to do so in a bid to fight against terrorism. These powers have been used extensively since 2001 with the legality of this case being questioned in the case of R (on the application of Gillan) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2006) where two students, who were attending a peace demonstration against the arms fair in London, were stopped and searched by the police who used the Terrorism Act (2000) as their defence.

The students appealed that the act was only created in order to be used is exceptional circumstances and for short periods of time. The House of Lords rejected this appeal however, and concluded that the laws and the circumstance in which the law was used were legal. However, this was further debated in the annual report of Lord Carlile in 2005 who pointed out that there are clear, potential dangers in granting the police extra powers such as those under the Terrorism Act (2000).

Those dangers include officers abusing their powers and harassing ethnic minorities based on stereotypical and personal prejudices that have been created and therefore, the balance between a suspects right and the police’s power is thrown into disarray as the police, if granted authority by the Home Secretary, hold significantly more power over the suspects during a time of danger. [6] Additionally, once a suspect has been detained in the station, it is the duty of the custody officer to keep a custody record which involves the various stages of the detention of the suspect as well other factors.

Furthermore, the custody officer has the duty to check and make sure the officers are following the guidelines regarding detention that are set out by PACE. However, the custody officer is more often than not a junior officer. This provides a significant problem as the junior officer is unlikely to prevent a breach of PACE when the investigating officer is of a senior rank. This therefore creates an imbalance in the rights of the suspect and police power as corruption and deceit are very easily found and able to be committed when the suspect is being detained which further allows for false confessions to be made[7].

Moreover, under s. 56 of PACE the suspect is entitled to inform someone of their arrest and where they are being held which must be done so without delay. However, if the offence is an indictable offence and by informing someone of their arrest that important evidence may be tampered with or destroyed, the right to inform someone of their arrest may be suspended for up to 36 hours. Nevertheless, it is the custody officer who makes the judgement and despite the custody officer being independent, they will always naturally lean towards favouring the police.

This therefore, still creates an imbalance between the suspect’s rights and police power[8]. In recent years, there have still been numerous miscarriages of justice in which if the guidelines of PACE were adhered to then the miscarriages of justice would never have occurred. One such case was the case of Jean Charles de Menezes who was mistaken for wanted suicide bomber and shot several times.

Instead, Menezes was an innocent citizen who was going about his everyday work routine when two armed police officers opened fire and shot down Menezes as he was sat on a subway bench. If the guidelines of PACE had been followed, if all communications between the officers of various units were clearer, if Menezes had successfully been stopped before leaving his flat as officers were ordered to then Menezes would easily still be alive today.

This is just one miscarriage of justice which highlights how PACE is not completely effective and creates an unfair balance in favour of the police which ultimately led to the killing of an innocent civilian[9]. Overall, PACE was introduced in order to create a fair balance between the suspect’s rights and the powers of the police as well as to restore public confidence within the police, to reduce racial tensions that were at boiling point, and to clearly set out the police’s powers with the aim of preventing acts such as false confessions through torture.

However, the points made above clearly show that the balance is very much in the favour of the police with extreme miscarriages of justice still occurring today. This being said, a balance could be created if every officer was to stick to the guidelines set out by PACE and if every officer was to ignore the rank of a higher officer or the circumstances of a certain crimes. But, this would not be realistic as the guidelines do not specify every possible outcome or circumstances of a case in which a fair balance can never truly be created.