The police have the right to search your property and seize any items that are linked with a crime, but they must do so lawfully. Any search which is not done lawfully will be in breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act which protects a suspect’s right to respect for his private and family life. The police must therefore ensure any attempts to search property and seize goods are reasonably necessary and proportionate to the circumstances involved at that time.
When the police wish to search a property they will generally require a warrant. The most common form of warrant is one under Section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The police will have to apply to the Magistrates’ Court in order to be granted a warrant. A warrant will be granted if there are reasonable grounds for believing any of the following:
- A criminal offence of a sufficiently serious nature has been committed.
- There is material evidence on the premises that is likely to aid a criminal investigation.
- It is not practicable to obtain the evidence without a warrant being granted.
- That the purpose of the search will be seriously prejudiced if the police officer cannot have immediate access to the property upon arriving at the premises.
When officers do not need a warrant
A police officer does not need to apply for a warrant when entering and searching a premises under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. A police officer is able to do this in the following circumstances:
- When a warrant for arrest has been issued and the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the individual is on the property.
- To arrest an individual for a sufficiently serious crime.
- To recapture any individual who is unlawfully at large.
- To save an individual’s life or prevent serious damage to a person or property.
In addition to the right to enter and search a premises, the police also have a general right to seize items when they are ‘lawfully on a premises’. A police officer is deemed to be lawfully on the premises if they are there with the consent of the occupier or are searching the property with a warrant under section 8, or without a warrant under section 17.
In addition to this the police may also seize an item if they have reason to believe it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence (even if that offence is not the one in which they have the warrant to search the property) and if it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent the evidence being lost, hidden or destroyed.
Items seized by police
Once an item is seized by the police it can only be kept “so long as is necessary in the circumstances”. This will obviously depend on its need to be used as evidence. If the item is stolen property and the true owner cannot be located it will be sold at auction by the police.
If you are unsure if the police had a right to search your property or if the police still have property belonging to you, you should contact a solicitor to learn more about your rights.