The definition of assault, still sometimes referred to as battery, is when somebody touches you or is violent towards you with the intent of hurting you. Assault also covers instances where you feel threatened and believe somebody is going to hurt you. The rules regarding assault are the same for the police as they are for everybody else. They can only use force in circumstances where the law permits it. Examples of this include;
Stopping somebody from committing a crime
Protecting somebody from a crime being committed against them
In order to carry out an arrest
To prevent am imminent breach of the peace
There are other times when the police are able to use force such as when they are searching somebody under the Terrorist Act or the Criminal Evidence Act.
However, even at those times when the police are permitted to use force they are committing assault if this force is deemed to be more than reasonable. An example of this is if you are lawfully arrested but the police restrain you for longer, or with more force, than necessary. In this instance you can sue them for assault.
When a search turns into assault
You could launch an assault claim against the police if they search you under the following circumstances;
They do not have the power to conduct a search.
They fail to follow the correct procedures when searching you.
When can the police legally stop and search you?
The police only have to power to stop and search you in public if they have good reason to believe you;
Are carrying stolen items
Are carrying items that you could use to commit a burglary, steal a car or commit criminal damage or deception
Are carrying an offensive weapon
Are a terrorist
Are carrying drugs
Unfortunately, there are also instances when the police are permitted to search you even when they don’t have good reason to suspect you of the above. These times include;
When they think that there is the chance of serious violence taking place nearby
When they believe you are about to commit an act of terrorism
The difference with the above cases however is that your search must have been authorised by a senior police officer, an ordinary bobby cannot just wade in and search you if he thinks you look dodgy.
What is the correct procedure for a stop and search?
There are many procedures the police are supposed to follow when it comes to a stop and search situation, the main ones being;
Proving to you at the outset that they are a police officer if they are out of uniform
Telling you their name and also the name of their police station
Telling you exactly why they are conducting the search on you
Telling you (in most cases) that it is your right to have a copy of their search record
If the police do stop and search you in a public street they are only allowed to hold you for a few minutes at most. If you are held for longer that this without good reason, or without being told why you are being held for longer, you can also sue them for false imprisonment.
Are the rules different for when you are searched under arrest?
If a search is carried out on you after you have been arrested the rules are very different. The police are only allowed to proceed with a search if;
They have good reason to suspect that you could be a danger to yourself or others
They need to check what items you have on you when you arrive at the police station
They have to make sure you don’t have anything on you that will help you escape
They have to check that you don’t have anything on you that could be evidence of a crime being committed
When does a strip search become an assault?
There are very specific rules when it comes to a strip search including that they should always be conducted by somebody who is the same sex and you and should always be conducted in private. There should also be at least 2 other people with you, never just you and the officer conducting the search. The general rule is that you will not be touched during the strip search, they should just tell you to remove your clothes. Due to this rule it is very difficult to sue the police for assault for strip searching you when they weren’t allowed to.
You could, however, sue the police for a wrongful strip search under the Human Rights Act for breaching your rights to respect for your privacy. Expert legal help is needed in this instance as this is a very complex route to go down. The Community Legal Service Direct pamphlet ‘The Human Rights Act’ will give you more information about this.