Police Powers of Entry: Can They Enter and Search Your Property Without Permission?

mariam-abu-hussein
Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 26th January 2024

Your home should be your sanctuary, a place where you feel safe and secure. But when police enter your home without permission, it can leave you feeling violated and uneasy.

police-powers-of-entry

While there are instances where police have the legal right to search your home or business premises, they must have valid reasons to do so under the law, and in most cases, they'll need a warrant.

Understanding your rights is crucial to safeguarding the sanctity of your home from unwarranted intrusion. After all, as the old saying goes, "An Englishman’s home is his castle."

In this article, we cover police entry rights and how to take legal action if they unlawfully enter your property.

Do the police have the power to enter your home or private property?

Yes, police do have the authority to enter and search a property under certain circumstances.

These powers are outlined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Additionally, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 grants similar powers to public officials, including police, local authority trading standards, and regulatory body enforcement staff.

When can the police enter and search a premises?

Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, police and designated individuals have the authority to enter premises for several reasons:

  1. Conducting inspections.

  2. Addressing emergencies.

  3. Searching for evidence as part of an investigation.

What is a warrant?

A warrant is a legal document issued by courts that grants police and other law enforcement agencies specific powers.

These include entering residential homes and commercial properties. There are four main types of warrants:

Police arrest warrant

Issued by the Magistrates Court, it allows police to arrest individuals, search them, and seize property.

Search warrant

Issued by a magistrate or higher court judge, it permits police to search a location or vehicle, typically in criminal proceedings.

Court warrant

Issued by various courts, it can be used for arrests, searches, and enforcing judgments.

Warrant of further detention

Issued solely by the Magistrates Court, it allows police to detain someone for more than 24 hours without charge.

Do police need a search warrant to enter a premises?

In most cases, yes. Police and enforcement agents typically require a warrant from the court before entering a premises to conduct a search.

However, there are exceptions where they can enter and search without a warrant.

When is a warrant not necessary?

A warrant may not be required for police to exercise their powers of entry in certain situations, such as:

  • When arresting someone for offenses where a warrant has already been issued during criminal proceedings.;

  • For serious indictable offenses heard at the Crown Court;

  • Under specific sections of the Public Order Act 1936 and 1986.

  • When arresting trespassers under the Criminal Law Act 1977.

  • For certain circumstances outlined in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

  • To save a life, prevent injury, or stop property damage.

However, in most cases, the police must have reasonable grounds to suspect the person they are searching for is at the premises they intend to enter.

Can the police seize property and goods when searching a premises?

Yes, under certain circumstances and with the appropriate warrant, the police can seize property and goods during a search.

This typically happens when the suspect has been arrested for serious offenses, and the items seized are directly related to the crime and can be used as evidence.

The warrant for this type of search must be granted by an inspector or a higher-ranking officer and provided in writing. The authority for seizing property and goods during searches is outlined in The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Code B.

These powers are primarily used to locate evidence of a crime, apprehend wanted individuals, or find children who have fled from local authority care.

However, the police must exercise these powers judiciously and with respect for personal property rights.

Under the Human Rights Act 1998, individuals have the right to privacy and protection against arbitrary interference with their property.

Before resorting to entry, search, and seizure powers, the police must consider less intrusive alternatives whenever possible. This ensures that homeowners' privacy is respected and that police powers of entry are used appropriately and lawfully.

What are Section 17 police powers of entry?

Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) gives police important powers to enter premises without a warrant.

Here's when they can enter:

  1. To arrest someone for a serious crime.

  2. To arrest someone for certain public order offenses.

  3. To prevent harm to people or property.

Officers can use reasonable force if needed. Section 17 overrides other entry powers, except where entry is necessary to stop a breach of the peace.

Indictable offences - arrest

An indictable offence is one of a series of offences classed serious, cases can only be tried via an indictment – a formal charge of a crime given by a hearing or grand jury. 

The case law example of O’Loughlin v Chief Constable of Essex 1998 makes it clear that officers must inform the occupier of private premises why they need entry, this allows them to volunteer their guilt by admission. Police can obscure their real reason for entry if circumstances make it ‘impossible, impracticable or undesirable’.

If the officer has informed the occupier of the reason for entry and the reason is legal, police can enter even if consent is denied.

Life and limb

In the case of Syed v Director of Public Prosecutions [2010] the court ultimately ruled that the police wrongfully exercised their power of entry to preserve life and limb.

They attended Mr Syed’s house after complaints of a disturbance (shouting, screaming). When police arrived, they saw no signs of a disturbance or damage, however, they believed Mr Syed was evasive under questioning and attempted to enter. Mr Syed resisted entry, attacking the officers.

The police continued to enter the house explaining they feared for the welfare of someone in the house. 

The judge summarised their view:

Concern for welfare is not sufficient to justify an entry within the terms of s.17(1)(e)… it is important to bear in mind that Parliament set the threshold at the height indicated by s. 17(1)(e) because it is a serious matter for a citizen to have his house entered against his will and by force by police officers. Parliament having set that level, it is important that it be met in any particular case.”

Breach of the peace

In Friswell v Chief Constable of Essex [2004] the police attended reports of domestic violence where a husband had assaulted his wife and chased her into the garden. The husband then deliberately overdosed on medication however he was not fully suffering from their effects when police arrived.

The police interviewed the wife who was shocked, but showing no signs of injury, she recounted what happened, but said she didn’t see the apparent overdose. The police entered the house by force (opening a closed door), the husband objected and a tussle between police and the husband resulted, Friswell was detained and arrested.

Mr Friswell later sued for trespass, false imprisonment, and assault, he was successful. 

The judge summarised:

“In my judgment, given the particular sensitivities which can arise in the context of a domestic dispute and the attendance of police officers at the scene, the principles to be distilled from the authorities, in relation to entry by a police officer into a private dwelling house to prevent a breach of the peace in these circumstances, are as follows:

  1. The purpose of the power is to deal essentially with emergencies;

  2. Police officers should exercise special care in such cases. Only in exceptional circumstances will it be justifiable to enter into private premises in the context of a domestic dispute to deal with or prevent a further breach of the peace;

  3. The officer must, before he enters, be satisfied on reasonable grounds that there is a real and imminent risk of a breach of the peace;

  4. Where the original breach has not occurred in the police officer’s presence, the further breach of the peace apprehended must be immediate or about to occur;

  5. The threat to the peace must be sufficiently real and present to justify the extreme step of entering private premises and depriving of his liberty a citizen who is not at the time acting unlawfully.

Get advice on actions against the police

It can be incredibly difficult if you experience mistreatment or negligence at the hands of the police. Especially considering they should protect us.

At Lawhive, our litigation solicitors can help you in making a civil claim against a responsible police force, or provide advice regarding unlawful searching and trespass.

For a free, no-obligation case assessment from our Legal Assessment Team, contact us today.

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