United Kingdom

Stop and search

In the United Kingdom, police officers are permitted to stop suspects and search their clothing and anything else they happen to be carrying for drugs, weapons and the like.

Out of all twenty-eight EU member states, the United Kingdom is, so far, the only country in which data have been systematically collected on the ethnicity, or ascribed ethnicity, of those targeted by police checks. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994, allows the police to carry out so-called stop-and-search measures. The London Metropolitan Police explain their approach to stop-and-search checks on their website. Police officers are permitted to stop suspects at any time and search through their clothing and the belongings they are carrying with them. Stop-and-search police checks can be conducted in any public place, or anywhere where the police suspect that the suspect may be involved in a crime.

In the meantime, those affected by stop and search have been granted the right to have their self-identified ethnicity placed on record. This has made it more difficult to determine how many checks are carried out on the basis of ethnicity as ascribed by the police. Officially, the powers of the police to perform stop and search are supposed to be guided by the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Probable cause may never be justified on the basis of external characteristics (such as skin colour, age, clothing etc. – cf. Police and Criminal Evidence Act); however, stop and search is still not free of ethnic profiling.

The use of ethnic profiling in stop-and-search identity checks has a negative effect on those targeted. It was one of the triggers of the civil disturbances in England in the summer of 2011. In their report investigating the causes of the riots, the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, an independent enquiry commission, came to the conclusion that the stop-and-search checks routinely practised on youth on the basis of ascribed ethnicity, were (and still are) a large source of discontent, as well as a motive for police brutality.

© Büro zur Umsetzung von Gleichbehandlung e.V. 2011