Suspects and the powers of the Police

The police need to have certain powers to enforce laws and to keep people safe from crime. Their powers allow them to talk to anyone and to ask them questions about who they are, where they're going and what they are doing. This helps them to see who was in a particular place at a particular time; this makes their job of enforcing law easier. Before 1984 the rules about the powers of the police weren't very strict, what rules there were, were set in case law, by Judges. This meant there weren't many rules and they weren't obeyed.

During the late 70's a male prostitute called Maxwell Confait was found in a burning building, he had been strangled with a piece of electrical cord. Three youths were quickly arrested. They were aged 15, 14 and 18, but all had a mental age of eight. They confessed under police questioning and were convicted of arson, manslaughter and murder. There were several features of the case that led many people to view the convictions as wrong. The guidelines in place for the police force, the Judges Rules and the Administration Directions were breached.

Although these had no force in law the breaking of them was considered wrong. For example, the suspects were not interviewed in the presence of a parent or guardian. When the boys claimed that they had been frightened into their confessions there was no -one to check these claims with. It was up to the judge to decide if the confessions were admissible or not, even though the Rules had been breached. By the end of 1977 sir Hennery Fisher, who had been appointed by the Home Secretary, had completed his inquiry into this 'miscarriage of justice'.

He reached the sensible conclusion that confessions should be excluded from evidence if they were in breach of the Rules, and if children made them in the absence of a parent or guardian. In 1984 the 'Police and Criminal Evidence Act' (P. A. C. E. 84) came into force. This was meant to give an equal balance between the rights of suspects and the power of the Police. The act was set in different chapters, each of these was to deal specifically with one particular issue. Police powers to Stop and search

One of the main sections of the act is about the power to stop and search. If the Police suspect you have prohibited articles e. g. a gun, a weapon, drugs etc. If the Police didn't have these powers then anyone would be able to carry anything on them and more crimes would be easier to commit. However in giving the Police these powers it breaches our freedom of movement. Within this section of P. A. C. E. 84 there are rules that the Police have to obey, they cannot stop and speak to or search someone unless they have reasonable grounds.

Unreasonable grounds for stopping people are: age, colour, hairstyle, dress or the fact that that particular person is known to have a previous conviction. Also included in the Act are rules the Police MUST obey to protect the rights of suspects, they must: Identify themselves, tell you which station they are from, and explain why they would like to search you. After a search has been carried out the Police must give you a record on paper of the search, which you must sign. If you refuse to let them search you then they can use reasonable force to detain you.

When you are being searched the Police may ask you to remove your hat, coat, gloves and scarf. In some cases this may not be suitable to do in public and you may have to go to the Police station to do it. There have been many additions to P. A. C. E. since 1984 one of these was the 'Sporting Events Act 1985' this allows the Police to search anyone attending a sporting event. A senior Police officer can order that ANYONE entering a certain area can be searched. Included in P. A. C. E.

are details of warrants, Police officers can obtain a warrant for an arrest or a warrant for a search from either a Magistrates court or from an appointed magistrate who is able to issue the warrant if the court is closed. The warrant will state the suspects name and alleged offence, it can be used to enter a premise to execute an arrest or to enter and search a premises. They are valid for Police powers to search premises Police have extensive powers to enter and search premises. Police can search at any time with consent. But with consent, they can only enter and search:

Following an arrest for an arrestable offence, To execute a warrant, To arrest someone for a serious offence or an offence that is visibly taking place (e. g. visible drug taking), To prevent a breach of the peace, To protect life and prevent harm to people, To recapture someone at large (such as an escaped prisoner), or if the premises are in the immediate area of a "serious arrestable offence" (e. g. robbery, supply of drugs, serious wounding). Police can enter by force if they think that a delay in their entering will lead to disposal of evidence (drugs, for example).

Evidence acquired during an unlawful search is admissible in court. An invitation onto premises to discuss, say, the loss of a bicycle, could become a drugs search if police become suspicious. When police search premises, they often search individuals, even visitors, on the premises. Usually they have the legal power to do so. They often ask questions which may amount to an interrogation. Police should supply occupiers of search premises with a paper that outlines their rights and a record of the search.