There are a number of way that a police officer can lawfully enter your premises. Set out below is a brief consideration of a few of the most common examples.
By far the most usual way is by consent. If an officer asks you if they can come in, and you say yes, then you have consented to them entering. This may seem obvious but many people will say yes without thinking. If an officer threatens you in some way to force your agreement then, arguably, that is not valid consent and they are trespassing if they then enter.
The next most common way is with a warrant. These are obtained from magistrates and authorise entry. Check the address on the warrant, it is not uncommon for officers to go to the wrong address! If officers do enter your premises with a warrant they have to leave you a copy of the warrant and a record of any items they seize and remove from the premises.
If you are under arrest for an indictable offence, officers can use section 18 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) to search your address. This might be before you are taken to the police station (e.g. en route, if you are not arrested at home) but more commonly it is done after you have been taken to the station.
The last, and often most contentious, common way that officers can enter is under Section 17 PACE. This section allows officers to enter to arrest people for indictable offences (these are the more serious criminal offences that can go to the Crown Court), recapturing a person unlawfully at large (e.g. an escaped prisoner), or to enter to 'save life and limb.'
This is a summary of the key powers and is not a full list of all the powers given under Section 17. However, often the most used and most contentious power is to enter to save life and limb. Cases that have been through the courts establish that officers simply wanting to check on the welfare of someone they believe is inside is not enough. A persons property is not to be violated by a forceful entry unless the officers can establish that they reasonably believe that someone's life is in danger or that there may be a danger of serious damage being done to the property.
We have a number of cases currently where the use of this power continues to be hotly disputed. All cases are different and turn on their facts as to what was happening at the time and what the officers knew or believed. The police have to be careful to only use the power to enter to save life and limb where there are clear grounds for doing so otherwise they lay themselves open to a claim for trespass. What is also clear from the case law is that once an officer has used this power to enter and they establish that no one is in danger (should that be the case) then they must leave. They can't stay to search the premises for different reasons.
Posted on Wednesday, 21st November 2012