House of Commons Library

Introduction to police powers

Published Wednesday, August 7, 2019

This briefing is designed to complement the Library Briefing Policing in the UK. Together, these briefings provide a ‘beginners guide’ to police services in the UK. ‘Policing in the UK’ provides an overview of the governance and operations of policing services. This briefing solely discusses the powers of police personnel.

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The core duty of the police service is to investigate and prevent crime. Police staff have a variety of powers which help them perform their duty. Most police powers are set out in legislation. However, there are some powers, like the power to keep the ‘Queen’s peace’, which are derived from common law.

The use of police powers should be compatible with human rights and equalities legislation. Police officers are responsible for ensuring that the use of their powers is lawful, proportionate and necessary.

Police powers can be broadly grouped into three categories:

  • Powers to investigate crime. This includes a range of powers to collect evidence needed to identify suspects and ensure that they can be prosecuted at trial.
  • Powers to prevent crime. This includes a range of powers to direct members of the public in certain situations in order to maintain public order and prevent anti-social behaviour.
  • Powers to ‘dispose’ of criminal cases. These powers allow police officers to formally reprimand those who have committed minor criminal offences or to charge suspects with serious offences so they can be prosecuted though the courts.

The police do not rely on their powers alone to carry out their duty. Sometimes they use general policing tactics rather than specific powers to investigate and prevent crime.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8637

Author: Jennifer Brown

Topic: Police

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