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Know Your Rights: What to do if you’re stopped by UK police

If the police stop you in the street, don't panic...here's what you need to know. Source: Shutterstock

Can I apply for work as an international student in my host country? What are my wage rights? Am I allowed to join protests and class walkouts? If I had a run-in with the authorities, what should I do? To help you understand the extent and limitations of your rights as a student abroad, Study International will provide the answers to all these burning questions and more through our “Know Your Rights” article series. Have a question you want to be answered? Email us at editor@hybrid.co

So you’re in the UK, perhaps without a fluent grasp of the language, and you’re probably not clued up on what to do if you’re stopped by the authorities. The good news is that police are there to keep you and everyone else safe, but on the unlikely chance you get stopped by police, it helps to know your rights.

The police are often present around busy nightlife areas in the UK, sporting events and city centres – most of the time this is just to keep an eye on everything and is no cause for concern. In fact, it can be reassuring to know you can go to them if you feel unsafe or need their help.

Police are often present in busy areas to keep you safe. Souce: Shutterstock

But if a police officer does approach you, here’s what you need to know…

Am I obliged to give them information?

In the UK, the police are allowed to stop and question you at any time.

They might ask you:
What your name is
Why you are in the area
What you are doing/where you are going

However, you are not obliged to answer these questions and cannot be charged for not doing so. You can walk away or say ‘I am using my right to remain silent’, just make sure you do so in a calm and polite manner. Without further evidence to suspect criminal activity, you are free to continue your day as usual.

What if they want to search me?

If a police officer has reason to suspect criminal activity, they may ask to search you if they have ‘resonable grounds’ (meaning strong evidence) that you are carrying:
Illegal drugs
Illegal weapons
Stolen property
An object that could be used to commit crime (e.g. a kitchen knife)

Try to remain calm and comply with their wishes…getting angry or aggressive will only make it worse. Source: Giphy

A senior police officer is allowed to search you if they suspect that:
serious violence could take place
you’re carrying a weapon or have used one
you’re in a specific location or area, such as private property, a neighbourhood you don’t live in or an industrial estate late at night

Before they search you they must tell you:
their name and police station
what they expect to find (e.g. an object reported as stolen)
the reason they want to search you (e.g. if it looks like you’re hiding something)
why they are legally allowed to search you
that you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy

If a police officer asks to search you, they may ask you to remove your coat, hat or gloves.

They can also ask you to remove religious clothing such as a headscarf or turban, but they must take you into a private area to protect your modesty.

Can I refuse a search?

If you are not guilty and they have no grounds to issue a warrant, you can explain they do not have the right to search you. But if they have grounds to warrant a search, have provided you with their police ID and their reason for the search, you cannot refuse.

If you refuse, force will be used against you to disarm without causing harm.

If they do not have a warrant, you are allowed to leave. Simply say you do not consent to being searched and you can walk away.

Can I bribe the police in the UK?

While we do not advocate bribing the police in any country, there are well-enforced anti-corruption laws in the UK and you absolutely cannot bribe the police.

Offering money will not get you out of trouble and may make you look more guilty than you are.

If you’re not breaking the law but are too scared to walk away, comply with their requests until they let you go.

If you have any questions about your legal, visa or personal rights while studying abroad, email editor@studyinternational.com and we’ll help you get to Know Your Rights.

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