In the United Kingdom there are several ways and occasions under which a police officer can lawfully come into your premises. In this article we will reveal a few of the most common examples.
Of course the most common way that a police officer can legally enter your premises is by your own consent. If an officer comes to your door and requests to come in, and you say yes, your consent gives that officer lawful entry to your premises. Although this may sound completely obvious, some people say ‘yes’ without thinking, and then regret it. If on a rare occasion a police officer somehow threatens you, to force your consent or agreement, then this could arguably be said to not be a proper consent and constitute trespass.
If you are under arrest for an indictable offence
Section 18 of the police and criminal evidence act (PACE) allows an officer to search your address if you are currently under arrest for an indictable offence. It is possible that this might happen before you are taken to the police station, but more often it is done after you have been taken to the station.
Other ways an officer might lawfully enter your premises
The final way an officer can enter your premises lawfully, and the one that is the cause of most controversy, is laid out in section 17 PACE. Outlined in this section are the legal recommendations concerning entering a house to arrest people for indictable offences of a more serious nature, recapturing a criminal who is unlawfully at large in the public (e.g. an escaped prisoner), or, and I quote, to enter to ‘ save life and limb.’
The circumstances listed here basically summarise the main key powers that are listed under section 17 but in no way constitute a comprehensive list. The most commonly used, and contentious, clause within this section, is the power to enter to save life and limb. At times the courts have had to make decisions where it has been necessary to establish whether officers simply wanted to check if someone was okay and confirm their welfare, rather than entering knowing that there was a life-threatening situation. It has been argued that simply checking the welfare of someone is simply not enough to constitute legal use of this section. Section 17 states that someone’s house or property should not be forcefully entered unless the police can certainly establish reasonable concerns that someone’s life is actually in danger or that they may be in danger of serious hurt or damage in the immediate future.
As you can imagine the use of this power is hotly disputed in many cases. The police authorities must take great care to call upon section 17 responsibly, or they could find themselves open to a claim of trespass.
The section notably also makes it very clear that should an officer enter premises under the assumption that someone’s safety is under severe threat, and discover that this is not the case, they must immediately leave. They have no legal right to remain on the premises to question, search any further, or for any other reason.
As you can see, there are numerous reasons that allow a police officer to enter your premises lawfully, some of these reasons are controversial, and in many cases have been brought to court when the officers right to come into someone’s house has been disputed.