House of Commons Library

Introduction to police powers

Published Wednesday, September 11, 2019

This briefing provides an overview of the powers of police personnel. It discusses which police personnel have powers and the three categories of police powers: powers to investigate and prevent crime and powers to 'dispose' of criminal cases.

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This briefing is designed to complement the Research 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 breifing soley discusses the powers of police personnel.

The core duty of the police service is to protect the public and detect and prevent crime. This duty is established in common law (precedents set by decisions of the courts) and the police have common law powers to execute it. They also have specific powers set out in legislation which help them to carry out their duty.

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

Police powers can be 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 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.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8637

Author: Jennifer Brown

Topic: Police

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