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Overview of police powers and the rights of suspects

Most police powers and rights for suspects are to be found in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and in the accompanying Codes of Practice. PACE originally aimed to strike a balance between the interests of the community on the one hand, and the rights and liberties of the individual suspect on the other. PACE has been amended many times since then, most recently by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

If any police powers are abused:
  • The evidence obtained by the police may be inadmissible in court.
  • You may make an official police complaint
  • You may be able to bring a civil action against the police.
  • You may be able to bring judicial review proceedings against the police.
  • You may bring an action under the HRA against the police.
Civilians Performing Police Duties

The Police Reform Act 2002 gives chief police officers the power to delegate some duties to civilians and therefore you might find that you are dealing with such a person.

They must wear a uniform with an approved badge and carry their authorisation with them when performing these duties. The badge must be produced to you if you ask for it. A difficulty that might arise is that the authorisation does not usually state exactly what powers the civilian has and these vary considerably.

With the exception of forcing entry to premises, where their right to use reasonable force is restricted to entry to save life or limb or preventing serious damage to property, they can use reasonable force to carry out their duties in the same way that the police can.

Obstructing, resisting or assaulting them in the execution of their duty is a summary offence.

They are bound like the police to follow the Codes of Practice as well as legislation. Complaints about them will be dealt with by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and as in the case of illegal action by police officers, you could consider bringing a civil action. Any evidence that has been obtained as a result of such activity could be inadmissible in a trial.
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