Unlawful stop & search

Stop and search refers to the police practice that lets the police stop and search individuals they suspect are carrying prohibited items or have been involved in criminal activity.

The rules surrounding stop and search in the UK are in place to strike a balance between law enforcement needs and protecting individuals’ rights and civil liberties.

Key points regarding stop and search rules

  • The police must have a reasonable suspicion that an individual is involved in criminal activity, or they are in possession of prohibited items such as drugs, weapons, stolen property, or items that could be used for criminal purposes.
  • When a stop and search takes place, the police officer must provide their name and the police station they are based at. They should also provide a reason for the search.
  • The location where the stop and search takes place should be reasonable and should take into account the individual’s privacy and dignity.
  • The police should not stop and search individuals based on their race, ethnicity, or other discriminatory factors. They should have reasonable grounds for suspicion.
  • The police can use reasonable force if necessary during a stop and search, but it should be proportionate to the situation.
  • Strip Searches are more invasive and require specific authorization under PACE. They should be conducted in a private area by an officer of the same sex, and their use is strictly regulated.
  • There are additional safeguards in place when stop and search involves children and young people. Special care must be taken to ensure their welfare.
  • All stop and search encounters are supposed to be recorded by the police, and individuals have the right to receive a record or receipt of the search. This record should include the reason for the search and the officer’s details.


It’s an acronym – each letter of GOWISELY stands for your rights if you’re stopped and searched.

G: Grounds for suspicion. For suspicion-based searches, the police must clearly explain the basis for their reasonable suspicion.

O: Object of the search. The police must clearly explain what they are looking for.

W: Warrant card. The police must show you this if you ask for it, or if they aren’t wearing a uniform.

I: Identity of the police officer or officers. The police officers involved in stopping and searching you must give you their name and shoulder number.

S: Station. The police must tell you which police station they work at.

E: Entitlement to a search record. The police must provide you with a copy of the search record or, if this is not practicable, provide information on how you can get a copy.

L: Legal power used. The police must tell you what legal power they are using to stop and search you.

Y: ‘You are detained for the purposes of a search’. The police must tell you this. ‘Detained’ means you are not free to leave until they tell you.

Recent cases involving Stop and Search

We represented a client who police attempted to stop and search after he had executed a “suspicious“ manoeuvre in his car. It also happens to be the case that the car was a nice one and our client is black.

The police used excessive force in executing the search and then arrested our client for supposedly obstructing the search. He was taken to the police station, charged and prosecuted. MK Law represented him throughout and we persuaded the CPS to drop the prosecution on the basis that there was not sufficient evidence. We then sued the police for assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The claim was settled with the police agreeing to pay our client £16,000 plus his legal costs.

The same client was on another occasion stopped and searched by police on the point of using his front door key to get into his home. Our client reluctantly allowed the police officers to complete the search, which resulted in their finding nothing. Our client was effectively detained for 10 minutes. His claim against the police was settled with the police agreeing to pay him £2,000 compensation, together with his legal costs.