Been accused of harassing your neighbour or ex partner? Made an offensive remark during an argument? Or how about sending a spiteful e-mail or leaving a nasty posting on Facebook?…
Well watch out, because the police are currently abusing their powers under the Road Traffic Act to pull over vehicles and arrest drivers suspected of harassment and other paltry non traffic related offences.
I have been hearing a number of complaints from people who have already fallen afoul of such oppressive police tactics to combat the already massively over-subscribed offence of harassment; a product of the much maligned Protection from Harassment Act that was created to tackle stalking, but which has now become the weapon of choice for sparring members of the public to bash each other over the head with.
The vast majority of harassment allegations are spiteful accusations made by one half of a warring party in an attempt to smart bomb their enemy into submission. All they need do is call up the police, claim that their enemy has contacted them with a message, text, phone call, visit, verbal remark or letter they didn’t like and hey presto! The police cavalry will magically arrive. Usually clutching a harassment notice warning the losing half of the battle not to do it again (or Police Information Notice as they are more cryptically known). That way, if you make the mistake of doing the thing – that in all probability you didn’t do the first time – again, the police will arrest you for harassment. Doesn’t matter how polite or civilised the communication is, if it’s unwanted and has occurred more than once, the police might take steps to arrest you.
The fact that an oversized chunk of ‘valuable police resources’ is already wasted on criminalising people for the heinous offence of ‘hurting somebody’s feelings’ doesn’t deter the police one bit. Particularly officers in some forces (the Metropolitan police being the worst offender) who are partial to pulling up the registration numbers of those accused of harassment and adding them onto ANPR camera databases (Automatic Number Plate Recognition). That way, if you make an idiotic Tweet or send a regrettable e-mail before going to bed, the police can snag you first thing in the morning on your way to work, drag you from your car, arrest you and seize your vehicle.
An extremely shady practise which – surprise, surprise – is illegal too.
The police do not have powers to enter vehicles to arrest for non-traffic related, summary offences
The reason they are snaring suspected offenders on the road in this way, rather than in their homes, is because the police know they have no powers to barge into people’s homes to arrest them for trivial offences – aka summary offences aka non-indictable crimes.
Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act affords us all protection from such heavy handed abuses of state intrusion by granting police powers of entry for indictable (more serious) offences only:
Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE)
Subject to the following provisions of this section, and without prejudice to any other enactment, a constable may enter and search any premises for the purpose.
(i)a warrant of arrest issued in connection with or arising out of criminal proceedings; or
(ii)a warrant of commitment issued under section 76 of the M1Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980;
(b)of arresting a person for an indictable offence;
If the police turn up at your door and insist you let them in because they want to arrest you for non violent harassment, common assault, sending offensive messages, public disorder, anti-social behaviour or any other number of paltry statutory offences the legislators rain down on us each year like confetti, you have every right to tell the police to leave. They cannot force entry simply to arrest you for a summary offence. If they could they would be kicking our doors down and dragging us from our beds each time we dropped a piece of litter or failed to send our children to school.
Typically though, the police don’t think Section 17 of PACE applies to them, despite the statute naming them specifically in the title. They also think the word ‘premises’ only applies to houses, and that the moment someone gets into their vehicle and drives on a public road, they are fair game. Well the police are wrong. Your vehicle is classed as premises and they have no right to enter your vehicle, without your permission, to arrest you for a summary offence.
A vehicle is described as ‘premises’ under the following section of PACE:
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Part II – Supplementary – Section 23
In this Act—
“premises” includes any place and, in particular, includes—
(a) any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft;
(b) any offshore installation;
(ba) [any renewable energy installation;] (c) any tent or movable structure;
The police do have limited powers of entry to vehicles to affect an arrest or undertake a search, afforded by the Road Traffic Act. But those entry powers are for road traffic offences. Harassment is not a road traffic offence and the police should not be abusing their powers to stop and detain drivers under one law, as a way of granting them extra powers under another law.
Adding driver details onto ANPR systems for the purpose of circumventing Section 17 powers under PACE could also be considered a breach of data protection principles. Furthermore, any unwanted touching a police officer makes of your vehicle – that falls outside of necessity – is trespass. If a police officer attempts to open your door, pull down your window, reach in or even leans against on your vehicle, against your will, where he has no lawful authority to do so, then he has committed trespass and can be sued in the county court.
So remember, if a police officer pulls you over in a vehicle and invites you to step out, decline. If you agree to leave the vehicle of your own free will then the police have done little wrong to arrest you for a summary, non-traffic offence (although even that much is debatable). However if the police threaten and bully you into leaving the safety of your vehicle because they intend to arrest you for something that is clearly not a road traffic offence, and is a minor summary offence or they are foolish enough to break in your window, force open your door and drag you from your vehicle, they will then be committing assault, trespass, battery and unlawful arrest – all in that order – and potentially a six figure compensation claim will await you.