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What Are Your Rights If You're Stopped By The Police In The Street?

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What Are Your Rights If You're Stopped By The Police In The Street?

The damning sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the police officer guilty of the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, has understandably left many people appalled and frightened of law enforcement.

The two-day court-hearing, which determined that Couzens should receive a full-life tariff, revealed that Couzens used his handcuffs and police warrant card to stage a false arrest of Sarah, who was simply walking home to her flat in Brixton, south London.

Sarah Everard was killed by Wayne Couzens (Credit: PA/Sarah Everard)
Sarah Everard was killed by Wayne Couzens (Credit: PA/Sarah Everard)

The prosecution argued Couzens abused his position of being a police officer, and commended the judge's decision that Couzens should die in jail.

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He is the first police officer to have ever received that sentence, with judge Lord Justice Fulford saying that Couzens had hugely harmed public trust in law enforcement,

And now, many people are questioning what our rights are as civilians if a police officer stops us in the streets – and how we can verify whether their concerns are legitimate.

What are our rights if we’re stopped by police?

‘Stop and account’ are the powers a police officer, or a police community support officer, has to ask questions about your identity and what you’re doing in the area in which you’ve been stopped.

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If the police officer is not in uniform, they have to show their warrant card to confirm and prove their identity.

You do have rights if stopped by police (Credit: Shutterstock)
You do have rights if stopped by police (Credit: Shutterstock)

Under ‘stop and account’ rules, police can ask you the following questions:

1.    What are you doing?

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2.    Why are you in the area?

3.    Where are you going?

4.    What are you carrying?

For the vast majority of incidences of ‘stop and account’, you have the legal right to refuse to answer and just walk away.

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The police officer doesn’t have the power to force you to stay and you can’t be searched or arrested just because you refuse to answer their questions.

You only have to answer police if they think you're engaging in anti-social behaviour (Credit: Shutterstock)
You only have to answer police if they think you're engaging in anti-social behaviour (Credit: Shutterstock)

According to the Liberty Human Rights organisation, this is defined as behaviour likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress.”

If you do not provide your name and address, you could be arrested. Providing false information is regarded as ‘obstructing the police’ and is also regarded as a criminal offence.

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If you think you have been wrongly treated during a ‘stop and account’, you can ask the officer if they are making a record. If they are, ask for a copy, which can help in making a formal complaint.

It should be noted that ‘stop and account’ is not the same as ‘stop and search’, as the police have greater powers for the latter. It’s always worth asking what the reason is if you are stopped by police, as well as their ‘reasonable grounds’ that you’re doing something wrong.

Wayne Couzens actions have prompted fear and uncertainty around the police (Credit: Shutterstock)
Wayne Couzens actions have prompted fear and uncertainty around the police (Credit: Shutterstock)

Former Met Police chief superintendent Parm Sandhu has since offered her advice to those concerned about police facing an arrest.

"I would say, do not get into the car unless it's a marked police vehicle, ask to see the radio, or ask the arresting officer to call their colleagues and make sure they are on duty," she said on Good Morning Britain.

“If you're really concerned dial 999.”

"This cannot carry on forever, it's a short-term solution - we've got to get that trust and confidence back - but in the short-term they're easy steps to verify you're being stopped legitimately."

People should also be aware that police officers are always regarded as police officers whether they’re in uniform or not. Police officers are free to exercise most of their powers all of the time – and the moment they enact any of their powers, they are regarded as being ‘on duty’.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock

Topics: News

Kimberley Bond
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