Search warrant – police powers. The most well-known method whereby police can enter and search premises is with a search warrant. A warrant is a legal document that gives the police powers to enter and search premises for items of property. It is issued by a Magistrate following an application by the police made on oath. The police tell the Magistrate what they are looking for and why they think that the items are there. If the magistrate thinks it appropriate then the warrant is issued. The occupant of the premises is entitled to a copy, but not the reason why it was issued.
A search warrant can be issued under all sorts of enactments. For instance, a Theft Act warrant would allow entry and search for stolen property. A Misuse of Drugs Act warrant for controlled drugs etc. However due to a change in the law in 2005 a search warrant is usually applied for and issued under S.8 PACE. This is because S8 is more far-reaching being non-specific. The items sought need to be likely to be of substantial value to the investigation of the offence.
A search warrant is usually valid for up to three months and allows multiple entries. This means that the police can come back next week and search your house again without getting a new one. The police are not supposed to use this as an excuse for fishing expeditions.
There are police powers to seize anything that they believe is evidence of an offence. This can include items not mentioned on the warrant. Police can force their way in and they do not have to pay for the damage even if they don’t find or seize anything. The occupant does not have to be there. The police are allowed to search if no one is at home. They may prefer this, as there is no one to get in the way.
If the police search an unoccupied property then they have to leave a copy of the search warrant. Police also have to make a list of what they take. The list is not always provided at the time and may be left until a later interview with anyone who is arrested. If the occupant is there, then the police do not have to wait for the person to obtain legal advice before they execute the warrant and start searching.