Police in Scotland have the legal power to stop and search you in a number of specific circumstances. If they search you, they should, if asked, tell you the powers under which they are searching you. We recommend that you ask them about this.
Police in Scotland may also ask you to "consent" to a search in circumstances in which they have no legal power to require you to be searched (police in England and Wales are not allowed to do this). Police are likely to put unfair pressure on you in order to secure your consent, and are unlikely to make it clear to you that you are free to refuse a search.
The majority of stop and searches carried out in Scotland last year were so called "consensual" (ie extra-legal) searches. SACC believes that these searches should be regarded as a human rights violation.
We recommend that you refuse any police request for a "consensual" search, unless you believe that this is likely to lead to the police detaining or arresting you
If you choose to refuse a "consensual" search, it is very important that you are courteous and non-confrontational with police, otherwise you will be at risk of arrest.
Police searching you should not require you to take off any clothing other than outer coat, jacket or gloves. However, if they detain or arrest you they have much wider powers to search you.
Stop and Search when the Police have reasonable grounds for suspicion
The police in Scotland can stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you of being in possession of drugs, an offensive weapon, stolen property, evidence in relation to an offence under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, cash or the cash equivalent of £1,000 or more that is the result of criminal activity, or fireworks that you intend to use anti-socially. If you are at certain major football or rugby matches or on public transport travelling to such an event they may also search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are in possession of alcohol.
The police in Scotland can also stop and search you or your vehicle under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if they reasonably suspect you of being a terrorist.
Stop and Search when the Police do not have grounds for suspicion ("random" stop and search)
After a serious violent incident
If a serious violent incident has taken place, police in Scotland can stop and search you without having reasonable grounds to suspect you.
Section 60 Stop and Search
They can also search you for a weapon under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, in places where this power has been authorised. Section 60 authorisations last 24 hours and may be extended by 6 hours. They are given where police believe serious violence may occur.
Stop and Search under Section 47a of the Terrorism Act 2000
Under Section 47a of the Terrorism Act 2000, police may stop and search you and/or your vehicle for the purpose of discovering whether there is anything which may constitute evidence that you are or have been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. They can only do this in areas where authorisation for Section 47a searches has been given by a senior officer. Authorisation can only be given where there is reasonable suspicion that an act of terrorism will take place.
Stop and Search under Section 44 (obsolete) of the Terrorism Act 2000
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gave police the power to search people in designated areas "articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism" without any requirement for the police to have reasonable grounds to suspect that such articles were being carried.
Authorisation for Section 44 searches was granted very widely in England. Following the Glasgow airport terrorism incident in July 2007, searches under Section 44 of Terrorism Act 2000 were authorised throughout Scotland for a period of 28 days. Stop and search powers for Scotland's regional police forces were not subsequently renewed, but were repeatedly renewed for British Transport Police at Scottish railway stations.
Strathclyde Police say they carried out 7 searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 during July 2007. That figure does not include searches carried out by British Transport Police. Between July and December 2007, more than 14,000 people and vehicles were stopped and searched by British Transport Police in Scotland, according to the BBC.
The use of Section 44 Stop and Searches was suspended by the Home Secretary on 13 July 2010 following a ruling by the European Court of human rights that section 44 violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights. Section 44 has been treated as repealed since 18 March 2011 and has been replaced with a new section 47A by the Terrorism Act 2000 (Remedial) Order 2011.
Photo: Wasi Daniju
Police at a demo against the fascist SDL, Edinburgh, June 2013
Have you been searched?
If you have been searched recently by police anywhere in Scotland, we'd like to hear from you. Send a description of what happened, when and where, and any other comments you'd like to make using our contact form www.sacc.org.uk/contact
- Rights briefing from SACC - your rights if you are approached by police or the intelligence services in connection with terrorism investigations
- Police powers in Scotland - advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau
- Stop and Search in Scotland is a human rights violation - SACC statement