The police can stop and search you if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you’re in possession of a controlled drug. ‘Reasonable suspicion’ could include you acting suspiciously or fitting the description of a criminal seen in the area.
On the street the police can ask to check or remove your coat or gloves or show the contents of your bag. They should do a more thorough search out of public view, not on the street. If the police think you have drugs on you they can take you to the police station for a more intimate search without needing to arrest you.
If nothing is found on you, you can go but details of the search are recorded.
You don’t have to give your name, address or date of birth unless you’re caught with drugs or are being reported for an offence. If you are carrying anything illegal you can be arrested.
Police can search your vehicle even if you’re not there but they must leave a notice saying what they’ve done.
More information, including how to make a complaint, is on this page of the Your Rights website.
If you are arrested, try to stay calm; getting worked-up makes the situation worse. Ask the police why they’re arresting you if they don’t tell you.
At a police station the police can do the following without your consent: take photos, fingerprints, saliva samples, oral swabs and impressions of your footwear.
They’ll need your written consent to take samples of blood, urine, semen, pubic hair, skin or impressions of your teeth.
Intimate body searches (including taking off more than outer clothes) are usually only done with consent, unless the police suspect you’ve swallowed drugs or are carrying a weapon.
When you’re questioned the interview is taped. You have the right to stay silent and have regular breaks. You’ll be asked if you want to speak to a solicitor. You have a right to this free legal advice. Always say yes. Never think you can handle the situation yourself. Don’t let the police persuade you that speaking to a solicitor will slow things down or keep you there longer.
A lot of people wrongly think you have the right to make only one phone call. In fact, you have two rights – to have someone told of your arrest and to get legal advice from a solicitor. The police sergeant who booked you into the police station will make the phone calls to friends or family. This sergeant also decides whether to let you talk to friends or family yourself. The sergeant will contact any solicitor you have details of. If you don’t have a particular solicitor in mind, you can get free legal advice from the ‘duty solicitor’ attached to the police station.
You’ll be asked to sign your ‘custody record’. Read it before signing, making sure it gives the exact reason for your arrest and that it confirms you want a solicitor. Although you may just want to get out of the station, don’t sign any statement without legal advice. If in doubt say nothing until you see a solicitor.
You can be kept at the police station for up to 24 hours without being charged (up to 36 hours with more serious offences).
If there’s not enough evidence to charge you, you can be released on bail to return later for more questioning.
Being arrested is not the same as being charged for an offence. After arrest the police may decide not to charge you and let you go.
If you’ve got HIV this should only be an issue if you need medical help or medication, otherwise you don’t need to tell them, even if they ask you. It’s best not to say you have HIV unless it's absolutely necessary to. If you need medication ask to see the police surgeon. If you don’t look ill the police might ask why you want to see a doctor but be careful about what you say. Remind the police surgeon to keep your conversation confidential.
For minor offences, you may be offered a caution, especially in connection with cannabis. This is like a police warning to those who admit they’re guilty of a minor offence. If you accept a caution it may be brought up in court if you are charged with another offence. You’ll also have to tell potential employers that you have a caution when applying for certain types of jobs.
If you already have had a caution for a similar offence you may be passed on to a magistrate’s court for a possible fine or a short prison sentence.
A caution is not the same as a conviction, so if you're asked on forms, for example whether you’ve been convicted for an offence, you can reply ‘no’.
Driving while under the influence of drugs carries the same penalties as driving under the influence of alcohol – click here for details.
Other useful information can be found at www.askthe.police.uk.
This article was last reviewed on: 28/10/11
Date due for next review: 28/10/13