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Increase in Police Powers since the 1980s

Info: 2875 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 27th Oct 2022

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): UK Law

There have always been robbers and there have always been cops. Since their conception in 1361 with the Justice of the Peace Act there were 4 men in each county to “arrest, take and chastise” (Source: British Police History, www.uktv.co.uk). As the Industrial Revolution gained speed more police were needed, and from this Henry Fielding (1707-1754) formed the first paid police force known as The Bow Street Runners in 1750. These were followed by the Bow Street Horse Patrol in 1805 to help clear London of highwaymen. Sir Robert Peel changed the police by the inception of the Metropolitan Police Bill of 1829. By 1856 there were over 200 police forces in England and Wales. The famous Bobby Helmet appeared in 1864 and the “Black Maria”, the police car in 1858. 1914 saw the introduction of Policewoman and Edith Smith became the first policewoman with powers of arrest. Since then the police force has adapted to change and evolution to the current force we see today. Unfortunately the criminal fraternity has also changed and evolved needing changes in tactics and procedures. The local bobby was once a quaint sign of everything good in an English town, he was liked by all. As society changed so did the level of violence he had to face. This essay will concentrate on some of the most violent tests the police have had to face in recent history. During these times we have seen political upheaval, football hooliganism and rioting.

In Brixton on the 10th April 1981 a riot was started which resulted in over 300 injuries to the police and public. The trouble flared over 2 nights and left the local community devastated. The reason given for the start of tensions was the questioning of a black youth who had been stabbed. The local community accused the police of being more concerned with questioning the youth than removing him to hospital. For when the witnesses tried to intervene they met with force from the police involved. The youth subsequently died in hospital which was the spark to the hostilities that followed.

Tensions were already high with the application of Operation Swamp 81, a stop and search policy implemented by the Metropolitan police. Black youths in the area had alleged been targeted and physically or psychologically abused. These raised racial tensions in an area already suspicious of police intentions. Following the riots the government instigated the Scarman Report, headed by Lord Scarman to investigate the riots and the allegations made against the police procedures. The report was published on 25th November 1981(www.wikipedia.com; 2010).

During the inquiry it was found that there was a disproportionate use of the so called sus laws (Stop and Search powers). The report also highlighted that there wasn’t any consultation between the police and local community members regarding the implementation of Operation Swamp. Lord Scarman further highlighted that there wasn’t evidence of institutional racism in the force, but recommended changes in training and procedures. With the dissolution of sus laws and the new stop and search policies used in their place, the powers given to police are to be used under “reasonable suspicion”. The unfortunate phrase is “reasonable suspicion” which is open to interpretation by the individual officers involved.

The PACE Code of Practice defines reasonable suspicion as “an objective basis based on facts, information and/or intelligence which are relevant to the likelihood of finding an article of a certain kind” (PACE, 1984). It doesn’t allow S&S to be implemented on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity or nationality. The powers were mainly implemented to fight football hooliganism in the 80’s but have been expanded to fight the war on terrorism. The definition of reasonable suspicion has been clouded considerably by the inclusion of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This expanded the powers to knives, guns and weapons. It also removed the need for reasonable suspicion with regard to vehicles. Section 44 thru 47 of the 2000 Terrorism Act gave officers and PCSO’s the power to stop ANY vehicle with regard to searching for articles used in terrorism acts. With the common products used in modern bomb making techniques and the use of peroxide and pesticides, what constitutes bomb making equipment is no longer defined and so can be open to abuse by unscrupulous officers. Anything could be surmised to be used as bomb ingredients so safeguards to protect the innocent have been tainted by this amendment.

Evidence against the usefulness of S&S policies show that even though ethnicity can’t be used as grounds of suspicion as a black youth you are 7 times more likely to be stopped then a white youth, although Asian youths being stopped have shown no trends in growth. After the 7/7 bombings of 2005 the present labour government have tried to extend these laws further, but evidence shows that they rarely lead to an arrest. Only 1 in 400 stops lead to an arrest (Source: The Guardian, 31st October, 2007)

In the Criminal Law Act 1967 police powers of arrest included a list of “arrestable offences”. These were more serious offences that could produce an arrest without a warrant, for a lesser offence a warrant was required. This changed with PACE (Police And Criminal Evidence Act, 1984). This allowed the police to be able to arrest a suspect who they “strongly suspected” of a criminal act or was about to commit an act. These powers were greater extended when the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005 where it introduced a “single power of arrest”, this could be used to arrest someone for ALL offences. Arresting a suspect was once used to bring a suspect to court. A suspect was interviewed and if enough evidence was gathered this resulting in an arrest. Now police can arrest someone if they believe it necessary for questioning to take place alone.

The police could at one time see their efforts thwarted by a suspect Right to Silence. This has been a fundamental part of the arrest procedure for years and has been a corner stone of the British Criminal Justice System since its conception but was changed by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The caution read out to suspects detained by the police were read a statement or caution which went

“You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so

But what you say may be given in evidence…”

Unfortunately this was widened and the wording changed. Michael Howard MP, the then home secretary ordered a revision, which after several drafts became the police caution we recognise today. It now reads

“You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do

Not mention when questioned something which you later rely

On in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”

The original caution did not allow the court to make inferences on guilt based on the right to silence; unfortunately the revised edition changed that. It was once the job of the court to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented; now these amendments could see the jurors making subjective judgements leading to false convictions.

Prior to the introduction of PACE suspects were protected by what was known as Judges Rules, these governed how the suspects were “handled” once they were at the police station. The procedures of detainment involved 4 codes of practice. These included Stop and Search powers, searching of premises and the seizure of evidence from those premises, the detention itself and the treatment and questioning of the suspect which included identification procedures. The tape recording of interviews and codes of practice to reinforce the suspect’s right to see a solicitor was introduced in 1991. Once the suspect was arrested they were taken before the custody officer. The desk sergeant became responsible for the treatment and rights of the detainee following the guidelines set down by PACE. Their duty was to protect the rights of the individual ensuring questioning was done over a period of time as to not impeach his/her civil and human rights. The monitoring of the conditions in which they were kept was monitored by the desk sergeant bringing about the euphemism of the “custody suite”.

These powers were introduced by the 1995 Masefield Report which dictated the powers afforded to the custody officer these included how frequently they were questioned, whether they received medical attention (if needed), if they were fed adequately also it was the duty of the officer to ensure they were monitored if there was a suicide risk. This has been further emphasised by CCTV. If any of these guidelines are not adhered to this could make the future prosecution and even the charge being dropped as being inadmissible so these guidelines are rigorously adhered to. When a suspect is arrested and taken to the police station they have a right to free legal representation by the duty solicitor, although under the Terrorism Act the timing can be delayed. The guidelines set out by Code of Practice C of PACE give the suspect a right to have someone informed of their detention and of course the well known telephone call. If the detainee is recognised as being “vulnerable” they have the right to have an appropriate adult present to ensure their rights are maintained. This is brought into contrast to the perceived view of the media and television. We can all remember scenes from ITV’s Sweeney series where the officer could be seen shouting into someone’s face, swearing and generally being abusive. Even though this is fiction it has been seen as realistic but with the introduction of PACE human rights have become prevalent and at the forefront of maintain rights of the suspects.

It has been argued that increasing police powers has led to a decline in human rights afforded to a suspect. This can be seen to be correct but with the constant evolution of the PACE guidelines some of these have been offset. The extended of the police powers has lessened basic freedoms we have a right to as a citizen of the United Kingdom but has this led to more arrests, undoubtedly so but there is no evidence that this has led to more convictions. With the introduction of revised powers there is a period of heightened arrests as the police “flex their muscles” and use the powers afforded to them by the government. This has a negative effect of community relationships with the police. The increased Stop and Search powers has led to many increases in tensions in the racial community. With the increase of Stop and Search following 9/11 and 7/7 bombings Asian men have been stop and searched disproportionally by the police resulting in cries of racism.

After the increase in time limits after the bombings for how long a suspect could be held were increased by the Terrorism Act from 14 days to 28 days the Court of Human Rights have indicated that human rights are being violated. Indeed it was necessary for the government to derogate from the European Convention with regard to Human rights to achieve these aims; indeed the government even wanted the extension to be 3 months. In addition the government under the Terrorism Act introduced “control orders”, these were controversially introduced which effectively imprisoned a suspect in his own home for a period of up to 12 months. Police and courts could detain the person without charge for up to these periods echoing the controversial Guantanamo Bay prisons operated by the US government. A challenge to these introductions was made by human rights campaigners and they were abolished.

To protect the public from the police power increases has seen the introduction of the IPCC, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This being the body dedicated to policing the police. Even though this is a necessary component the IPCC is effectively police investigating themselves. It is not entirely Independent and so produces cries of indignation regarding investigations. Can the police be trusted to investigate themselves? A large section of the community would disagree and this has led to many media reports about injustice when it comes to the police.

In conclusion, have the police got too much power and ahs the powers increased proportionately with the increases in criminal activities? It has to be recognised that there is a necessity for some increases to tackle the problems in modern society. We would all love to go back to the “Dixon of Dock Green” halcyon days with the community bobby bending his knee and being the symbol of fair justice for all but the role of the police has changed into something that doesn’t resemble this quaint view. The Police have almost become an urban soldier fighting a guerrilla war in the concrete jungle. The criminal fraternity have changed beyond recognition. The police have to face weapons more nowadays and with the fight with terrorism still prevalent in society it can be argued that police need the necessary tools to combat this threat. With this said who decides where the lines are drawn, when policy becomes law the criminal fraternity will move the goalposts further and the newly introduced laws become inadequate. The police are also fighting a politic and media law, the press are always available to report injustice and wrong doing with regard to the police and the popular press are aligned to certain political parties. If a conservative government are in power the labour aligned newspaper will always report the incidents to make government policy inadequate, and vice-versa. There has been a loss of civil liberties but at what price should we pay to have our rights protected. The introduction of CCTV systems to monitor our homes and estates are welcomed by some but are seen as an intrusion by others. This can be applied to stop and search policies. If an Asian youth was stopped and was found to be carrying implements to facilitate terrorism the government would cry out that this proves policy is working, if he is searched and is found to be carrying nothing it could be seen as the police being racist and stereotyping him because he is of Asian extraction.

Sections of the community would say there is a problem with police having increased powers and are afraid of where this will stop. We are supposedly living in a free democracy afforded all the human rights and freedoms such as free speech. This notion of freedom can be entirely subjective as one section of the community are having their rights eroded another is seen to be having their rights protected.

Is it a problem? With police powers growing to combat crime there is fear of where it will stop. Do we want to live in a George Orwell type of police state or do we want to live in a state of government that serves all citizens fairly and equally. Of course the latter is the most acceptable but with world changes effecting us all some form of control is necessary but should it be the police that have the responsibility and are held accountable for exercising the latest fad set out by governments to appease the electorate.

Referencing and Bibliography

“Police Powers”

Class Handout, 2009

Hopwood Hall College

“Police Powers ‘Stop and Search’, and Arrest”

Garside, Stephen

Hopwood Hall College Class Notes, 2009

“Public Enemy Number One”

Macintyre, James; 2009


“Racial Profiling and Anti-Terror Stop and Search”

Kundnani, Arun; 2006


“Smith to slash restrictions on police power”

Wintour, Patrick; 2008


“Stop and Search Under the Terrorism Act”

Class Handout, 2010


“The Police Caution Explained”, 2009


“UK police stop and search powers declared ‘illegal’”

Land, Jon; 2010


“Why does stop and search provoke controversy?”

BBC History Today, 2010


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