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The police can search your house or other premises under your control if they have the correct warrant. The police can also search your property without a warrant in certain circumstances, including if there is a real risk that evidence could be destroyed.
Police House Search Powers
If you think your property has been unlawfully searched, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We specialise in criminal defence law and can explain your rights in further detail. If evidence has been unlawfully obtained, we can apply to have this evidence struck out.
When can the police enter my property?
The police do not automatically have the right to enter a private property. This means they cannot turn up at your home and let themselves in, unless one of the following has occurred:
You have given permission
If you give the police permission to enter your home, then you have provided consent for the police to access the premises. We have all seen police dramas where a detective turns up on someone’s doorstep and asks to come in. They are then questioned, usually in the comfort of their living room. If the police ask to come into your home, you do not have to say yes. The police will then deliberate their options. If you are a suspect, you could be arrested and taken to the police station for an interview.
Someone you live with gives permission
The police can also enter your property if someone you live with gives them permission to do so. For example, if your parent or partner opens the door and invites the police in, then that is considered sufficient consent. However, your landlord cannot give the police permission to enter your place of residence, if that landlord does not live with you.
The police have a search warrant
If the police have a search warrant, then they can enter your home without your permission. The warrant must be valid. The police can enter, regardless of whether or not you are there. If no one is available to open the door, the police can force an entry. So long as the police search the correct property, they are not liable for any damage done.
Other exceptional circumstances
The police can also enter a private property without a warrant/permission to:
- Deal with a breach of the peace or prevent it
- Enforce an arrest warrant
- Arrest a person in connection with certain offences who they believe is in the property
- Recapture someone who has escaped from custody
- Save life
- Prevent serious damage to property
- Check whether the occupant is at risk because of mental illness
When can the police search my home or property?
Entering your property is one thing; searching it is another. Having the police root around your personal possessions feels like a major invasion of privacy. The police can enter and search your property in the following situations:
The police have a search warrant
If the police want to search a property, they must usually get a search warrant from the court first. In the application, the police must prove to the court that there are reasonable grounds for the warrant. There must be some connection to crime. Once it has been granted, the warrant is valid for three months.
A delay would defeat the interests of justice
Sometimes the police will say that the delay caused by obtaining a search warrant will defeat the interests of justice. If so, the court may accept that the search was lawful, even though a warrant had not been issued. This will likely be the case if there is a real risk that the evidence would be destroyed.
Permission is granted
If you invite the police to search your property then you have given them permission to do so, meaning they do not need a warrant.
The police can also enter a property and conduct a search without a warrant in the following circumstances:
- To rearrest an individual who has absconded from custody
- To save a life or prevent the destruction of property
- To enforce an arrest warrant
- To respond to a serious breach of the peace
- To recover evidence after an individual has been arrested
The last point is of particular interest, as it means the police can arrest someone and then search their property. However, the police must have reasonable grounds to believe they will find evidence connected to the alleged offence. Authorisation must also be given by a senior police officer, meaning an inspector or above.
Can my property be searched if I’m arrested?
The police can search a property where a suspect is found during or immediately before the arrest. The police can also search any property owned or controlled by the suspect. These kinds of searches can be conducted without a warrant, but authorisation from a senior police officer is needed. Also, officers must have reasonable grounds to believe they will find evidence connected to the alleged offence.
What happens during a police search?
The police will enter your property and show their I.D. If you are present, they should show you a copy of the valid search warrant at the earliest available opportunity. They can then conduct a search of your property, taking as long as they see fit. You should be given information about your rights regarding stop and search. Remember that the police do not need a warrant if you give them permission to enter and search.
The police are meant to conduct searches at a ‘reasonable’ time of day. However, dawn raids are very common. Searches can also be carried out at night time. This is allowed if the police feel it would be more effective.
Can the police enter and search my home, even if I’m not there?
The police can enter and search your property even if you are not there. If the door is not unlocked, the police can gain entry by way of force. So long as the police search the correct property, they are not responsible for any damage caused. You cannot ask the police to pay for the repairs unless the search was conducted in error.
Can the police search various properties?
The police can apply for two different types of warrant:
- A specific premises warrant – which allows officers to enter and search the premises stipulated on the warrant; or
- An all premises warrant – which allows officers to enter and search all premises owned and controlled by the suspect.
This means police are able to search various properties, although it depends on the terms of the warrant.
Can I prevent a police search?
If the police have a valid search warrant, then you cannot stop a police search taking place. You risk adverse consequences if you attempt to obstruct a police search where there is a valid search warrant.
Can I film a police search?
However, you are perfectly entitled to film the police while they are searching your property, although you must not get in the way. Also, you must remember that the police can seize personal items. This means they may seize your mobile phone, including the video footage you have just taken.
Can I ask my solicitor to attend while the police conduct a search?
If the police arrive at your property with a valid search warrant, you can contact your solicitor and ask them to attend the scene. You can ask the police if they would be willing to delay the search until your legal representative arrives. The police do not have to respect this request and can start the search if they choose to do so.
Can the police seize my personal possessions?
The police can seize your belongings if they have grounds to believe that the item was gained illegally or used in the commission of a criminal offence. Items can also be seized if the police think they will aid their investigation or could be used as evidence. The police should only keep your possessions for as long as is necessary. You cannot demand that your belongings be returned. However, your solicitor can make enquiries in an attempt to expedite their return.
Is there anything the police can’t take?
Material relating to legal advice or legal proceedings are protected by ‘legal privilege’. This means such material cannot be seized by the police, including correspondence from your solicitor. Other types of material require a special warrant if they are to be seized by the police, such as medical samples and journalistic materials.
What if evidence is taken unlawfully?
If evidence is taken unlawfully, then it should not be used in a court of law. This is known as ‘inadmissible evidence’, because it cannot be admitted for use during legal proceedings. It can be difficult to know whether the police have lawfully entered and searched your property. We can advise you further. If we consider the search and seizure to be unlawful, we will raise this immediately with the authorities. Sometimes if key evidence is struck out, the prosecution no longer has a case and the charges are dropped.
What if the police raid the wrong house?
Sometimes the police will actually enter and/or search the wrong address. If any damage is caused, the police should take immediate action to “allay any sense of grievance”. In practical terms, this usually entails the payment of compensation. If this has happened to you, we recommend making a complaint to the constabulary in question.
The police have very strict rules to follow when entering and searching private property. If evidence was seized and the police did not have the necessary permissions (or were not exercising their powers under statute) then this will be deemed unlawful.
As specialist criminal defence lawyers, we always check whether evidence seized during a search is lawful. If not, we will raise a challenge, seeking to have the evidence struck out.