Stop and search

Need for fairness and respect in use of police ‘stop and search’ powers.

The principles determining when police can use ‘stop and search’ powers have been set out in a code of practice.

Promoting public safety and preventing and detecting crime are recognised as the main aims of stop and search in the code, which will come into force in May, if approved by Parliament.

Recognising that being stopped and searched by police is a significant intrusion into liberty and privacy, the code sets out that use of powers must be necessary, proportionate and in accordance with the law.

The Government has worked with an Advisory Group of experts, led by John Scott QC, to draft the code, and its creation received widespread support from a public consultation.

Specific guidance on stop and search of children and vulnerable adults was added to the code after feedback from the public.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said:

“Stop and search is a valuable tool in combating crime, but we must ensure a balance between protecting the public and recognising the rights of individuals. This new code is about finding that balance and maintaining the trust between the police and the public.

“People’s views about when and how stop and search should be used have been integral to the shaping of the new code.

“With this new code we will ensure stop and search is carried out with the fairness, integrity, respect and accountability that we expect from our police officers in all of their duties.”

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said:

"Police Scotland has made real progress in relation to its use of stop and search and very much welcomes the introduction of the code. We are currently training all our officers in advance of its introduction to ensure we are fully prepared."

John Scott QC said:

“On stop and search, Police Scotland have already come a long way from the point of time when we reported (September 2015). This code will complete the process of change from non-statutory searches to statutory searches.

“The code has been substantially revised thanks to responses in the formal consultation process and the contribution of others in the last few months – leading academics; relevant organisations dealing with children, young people and those with specific vulnerabilities; several government departments; and officers of the National Stop and Search Unit.

“The code will be subject to regular review, with the changes monitored initially in six and 12 months to ensure a smooth transition. The government is to be commended for addressing such a complex area with the urgency it required.”


To access the Code of Practice click here

Police Scotland has been phasing out the use of non-statutory, or ‘consensual’ stop and search, ahead of the practice stopping when the code takes effect in May.

Two plain English guides to the Code of Practice, including one aimed specifically at children, will be published online ahead of the code taking effect.

The Scottish Government announced on 4 November 2016 that there is not enough evidence to support creating a police power to search children for alcohol at this time. The situation will be re-assessed after the Code of Practice has been in force for 12 months (with an interim assessment after six months, during which time a range of further evidence will be gathered). This approach was recommended by the Advisory Group and is supported by Police Scotland.

The practice of stop and search allows police officers to search people for dangerous objects, drugs, stolen goods, weapons and other items. Once non-statutory (or consensual) stop and search ends, the Police will only be able to do this where they have reasonable grounds to suspect possession and specific statutory power to do so. A code of practice underpinning the use of stop and search is required under The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016.


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