Previous offending / stop and search

04 September 2019

Not reviewed after the date of publication


Can someone's previous offending history be used as grounds to stop and search under section 1 of PACE?


Regarding the stop and search powers under section 1 of PACE, a person's previous records and offending history should not be used to justify a search.  You must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person has stolen or prohibited articles on them at the time; you cannot search them on any occasion, due to their previous offending.  Section 1(3) states:

'1(3) This section does not give a constable power to search a person or vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle unless he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles, any article to which subsection (8A) applies or any firework to which subsection (8B) applies.'

Any search carried out under section 1 must be done so in conjunction with PACE Code of Practice A. Code A states that stops and searches must not just be carried out on a hunch or because the person is a known criminal, they must have an objective element to them. The objective element could be based on intelligence, information or relevant facts. An example of this could be the person's behaviour in a locality where burglaries are occurring regularly. Paragraph 2.2B states:

‘2.2B Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors. This means that unless the police have information or intelligence which provides a description of a person suspected of carrying an article for which there is a power to stop and search, the following cannot be used, alone or in combination with each other, or in combination with any other factor, as the reason for stopping and searching any individual, including any vehicle which they are driving or are being carried in:

(a) A person's physical appearance with regard, for example, to their race, ethnicity, sexuality and any of the relevant 'protected characteristics' set out in the Equality Act 2010 (see paragraph 1.1 and Note 1A), or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction.

(b) Generalisations or stereotypical images that certain groups or categories of people are more likely to be involved in criminal activity.’

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