Law enforcement in the United Kingdom

Law enforcement
in the United Kingdom
Types of agency
Types of agent
Statutory Instruments
Mounted officer of the Metropolitan Police at Buckingham Palace, London

Law enforcement in the United Kingdom is organised separately in each of the legal systems of the United Kingdom: England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.[nb 1] Most law enforcement is carried out by police officers serving in regional police services within one of these jurisdictions. These regional services are complemented by UK-wide agencies, such as the National Crime Agency, and specialist bodies hosted by regional police forces, such as the Specialist Operations directorate of the Metropolitan Police.

Police officers are granted certain powers to enable them to execute their duties. Their primary duties are the protection of life and property, preservation of the peace, and prevention and detection of criminal offences.[1] In the British model of policing, officers exercise their powers to police with the implicit consent of the public. "Policing by consent" is the phrase used to describe this. It expresses that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.[2][3]

Jurisdictions and territories

In the United Kingdom, every person has limited powers of arrest if they see a crime being committed: at common law in Scotland, and in England and Wales if the crime is indictable[4] – these are called "every person powers", commonly referred to as a "citizen's arrest". In England and Wales, the vast majority of attested constables enjoy full powers of arrest and search as granted by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. All police officers are "constables" in law, irrespective of rank. Although police officers have wide ranging powers, they are still subject to the same laws as members of the public. However, there are certain additional legal restrictions on police officers such as the illegality of taking industrial action and the ban on taking part in active politics.

Types of law enforcement agency

There are three general types of law enforcement agency in the United Kingdom, the first is mostly concerned with policing the general public and their activities and the others are concerned with policing of more specific matters:

The list of law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom details the various services.

Cross-border powers

Territorial police constables have certain powers of arrest in countries other than the one they were attested in. There are four main provisions for them to do so – arrest with a warrant, arrest without a warrant for an offence committed in their country, arrest without a warrant for an offence committed in another country, and mutual aid. Note: this section applies to territorial police constables only, and not to others – except the British Transport Police, who also have certain cross-border powers in addition to their natural powers.

Arrest with warrant

Certain warrants can be executed by constables even though they are outside their jurisdiction: arrest warrants and warrants of commitment (all); and a warrant to arrest a witness (England, Wales or Northern Ireland); a warrant for committal, a warrant to imprison (or to apprehend and imprison), and a warrant to arrest a witness (Scotland).[5] A warrant issued in one country may be executed in either of the other two countries by a constable from either the country where it was issued, or the country where it is executed.[5]

When executing a warrant issued in Scotland, the constable executing it shall have the same powers and duties, and the person arrested the same rights, as they would have had if execution had been in Scotland by a constable of a police force in Scotland. When executing a warrant issued in England & Wales or Northern Ireland, a constable may use reasonable force and has specified search powers provided by section 139 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.[6]

Arrest without warrant: offences committed in home country

If a constable suspects that a person has committed or attempted to commit an offence in his country, and that person is now in another country, he may arrest (and in the case of a constable from Scotland, detain) them in that other country.[7]

A constable from England & Wales is subject to the same necessity tests for arrest (as under section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984[8]) as he would be in England & Wales, a constable from Scotland may arrest/detain if it would have been lawful to do so in Scotland and a constable from Northern Ireland is subject to the same necessity tests for arrest (as under Article 26 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.[9]) as he would be in Northern Ireland.[7]

A person arrested under the above powers:[7]

A person detained under the above powers:[7]

Detention under these powers, which in Scotland normally lasts for twelve hours, can be extended for up to twenty four hours.[10]

Arrest without warrant: offences committed in other countries

A constable from one country has, in the other countries, the same powers of arrest as a constable of that country would have.[11]

A constable from England & Wales has:[11]

A constable from Scotland has:[11]

A constable from Northern Ireland has:[11]

When a constable arrests a person in England & Wales, the constable is subject to the requirements of section 28 (informing of arrest),[15] section 30 (taking to a designated police station)[16] and section 32 (search on arrest).[11][17] When a constable arrests a person in Scotland, the arrested person shall have the same rights and the constable the same powers and duties as they would have were the constable a constable of a police force in Scotland.[11] When a constable arrests a person in Northern Ireland, the constable is subject to the requirements of Article 30 (informing of arrest),[18] Article 32 (taking to a designated police station)[19] and Article 34 (search on arrest).[11][20]

Other situations

Police forces often support each other with large-scale operations, such as those that require specialist skills or expertise and those that require policing levels that the host-forces cannot provide. Referred to as mutual aid, constables loaned from one force to another have the powers and privileges of a constable of the host force.[21] Constables from the Metropolitan Police who are on protection duties in Scotland or Northern Ireland have all the powers and privileges of a constable of the host police force.[22] A constable who is taking a person to or from a prison retains all the powers, authority, protection and privileges of his office regardless of his location.[23] Regardless of where they are in the United Kingdom, a constable may arrest under section 41[24] and may stop and search under section 43[25] of the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of terrorism (defined by section 40[26]).

Powers of officers

Territorial police constables

An officer of the Metropolitan Police with an officer of Merseyside Police during a Football match between Everton and West Ham at Goodison Park
Police Constables and an Inspector of Greater Manchester Police on the beat in Manchester city centre after the 2008 UEFA Cup Final Riots

Most police officers are members of territorial police forces. A person must make a declaration before taking up office as a constable and having any powers; although this is sometimes still known as the police oath, and the process sometimes referred to as "swearing in", it now takes the form of an "attestation" (in England and Wales and Northern Ireland) or a "declaration" (in Scotland). The process is carried out in the presence of a magistrate, and is usually followed by the issue of a warrant card. This grants the officer all the powers and privileges, duties and responsibilities of a constable in one of the three distinct legal systems - either England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and the territorial waters of that country. The limited circumstances where their powers extend across the border are described in the section above.

Other constables

There are many constables who are not members of territorial police forces. The most notable are members of the three forces referred to as special police forces: the British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Such officers have the "powers and privileges of a constable" in matters relating to their work.[27][28][29] BTP and MDP officers have additional jurisdiction where requested by a constable of another force, in which case they take on that constable's jurisdiction.[30][31] Upon request from the chief police officer of a police force, members of one of the above three forces can be given the full powers of constables in the police area of the requesting force.[30][32] This was used to supplement police numbers in the areas surrounding the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles.

Many acts allow companies or councils to employ constables for a specific purpose. There are 10[33] companies whose employees are sworn in as constables under section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. As a result, they have the full powers of a constable on land owned by the harbour, dock, or port and at any place within one mile of any owned land. There are also forces created by specific legislation, such as the Port of Tilbury Police (Port of London Act 1968), Mersey Tunnels Police (County of Merseyside Act 1989) and the Epping Forest Keepers (Epping Forest Act 1878).

Parks Constables Under Article 18 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provisional Order Confirmation (Greater London Parks and Open Spaces) Act 1967, London Borough Councils are allowed to swear in council officers as constables for "securing the observance of the provisions of all enactments relating to open spaces under their control or management and of bye-laws and regulations made thereunder". Local Authority Parks Constables have all the powers of a constable in relation byelaws regulations and all enactments relating to open spaces, Article 19 of the Act was repealed by section 26(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Local Acts) and the power of arrest for Parks Constables is now contained in Section 24 of P.A.C.E 1984, further amendments to Article 19 covering coming to the aid and assistance of such a constable or officer were repealed by SOCPA 2005, as this provision is already covered in P.A.C.E 1984 (Legal Counsel 2007,2012). No enforcement agency with a power of arrest or detention can operate outside of the provisions of P.A.C.E 1984; therefore all local powers of arrest and detention were brought into line under section 26(1) P.A.C.E 1984.

Police staff

Police forces employ civilian staff who perform many functions to assist officers and support the smooth running of their police force. They do not hold the office of constable. In England & Wales, the chief police officer of a territorial police force may designate any person who is employed by the police authority maintaining that force, and is under the direction and control of that chief police officer, as one or more of the following:

They have a range of powers given by the Police Reform Act 2002,[35] and their chief police officer decides which of these powers they may use. Unlike a police constable, a PCSO only has powers when on duty and in uniform, and within the area policed by their respective force.

Until 1991, parking enforcement was primarily conducted by police-employed traffic wardens. Since the passage of the Road Traffic Act 1991, decriminalised parking enforcement has enabled local authorities to take on this role and now very few forces still employ Police Traffic Wardens, these include the Metropolitan Police Service however they have combined the role with PCSOs as Traffic Police Community Support Officers.

In Scotland, Police Custody and Security Officers have powers similar to those of detention officers and escort officers in England and Wales.[36] Similar powers are available in Northern Ireland.[37]

Accredited Persons

Chief police officers of territorial police forces[38] (and the British Transport Police[39]) can also give limited powers[40] to people not employed by the police authority, under Community Safety Accreditation Schemes. A notable example are officers of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, who have been given powers to stop vehicles.[41] This practice has been criticised by the Police Federation who described it as "half-baked".[42]

Members of the armed forces

In Northern Ireland only, members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces have powers to stop people[43] or vehicles,[44] arrest and detain people for three hours[45] and enter buildings to keep the peace[46] or search for people who have been kidnapped.[47] Additionally, commissioned officers may close roads.[48] They may use reasonable force when exercising these powers.[49]

Under the Customs Management Act 1979, members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces may detain people if they believe they have committed an offence under the Customs & Excise acts, and may seize goods if they believe they are liable to forfeiture under the same acts.[50]

Service Police/Military Police - Service police are not constables under UK law and do not have any constabulary powers over the general public, however they have the full range of policing power that constables possess when dealing service personnel or Civilians subject to Service Law drawing their powers from the Armed Forces Act 2006. However, the service police can utilise the powers, available to all persons in England and Wales, under Section 24(A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; which allows any person to arrest any individual they have reasonable grounds to believe is committing, or has committed, an indictable offence, and that a constable is not available to perform the arrest.[6] They are allowed to use such force as is reasonable in the circumstance to achieve this.[7] A similar power of arrest exists under Scottish common law, but there is a requirement to use the minimum amount of force and for the Military Police officer to have directly witnessed the individual commit the act for which they are arresting them. The Service Police regularly assist territorial police forces and patrol throughout the UK.

Other civilians

Some employees of local authorities have powers of entry relating to inspection of businesses under the Sunday Trading Act 1994[51] and powers to give Fixed Penalty Notices for offences such as littering, graffiti or one of the wide ranging offences in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. Such powers may be granted under local bylaws or acts of parliament.

When carrying out an investigation, staff of the Independent Police Complaints Commission have the powers and privileges of constables throughout England and Wales and territorial waters.[52] Similarly, staff of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland have certain powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Application to the Police Ombudsman) Order (Northern Ireland) 2009[53]

Employees of the Serious Organised Crime Agency can be granted[54] the powers of a constable,[55] Revenue and Customs officer[56] and immigration officer.[57] These designations can be unconditional or conditional; time limited or limited to a specific operation.

Employees of the Border Force may be Immigration Officers and/or customs officers and hold certain powers of arrest, detention and search.

In England & Wales, water bailiffs employed by the Environment Agency have powers in relation to enforcement of fishing regulations. Scottish water bailiffs have similar powers. There are also seven types of court officer - two in Scotland and five in England & Wales, commonly referred to as "bailiffs", who can enforce court orders and, in some cases, have powers of arrest.

Traffic officers are employed by the Highways Agency and maintain traffic flow on trunk roads and some bridges and tunnels. There are different types of traffic officer and they are appointed under separate Acts. They have limited powers to direct traffic and place road signs, close lanes of an active motorway, and stop vehicles if they believe them to be unroadworthy for the road and condition they are driving in.

Wildlife inspectors have certain powers of entry and inspection in relation to wildlife and licenses relating to wildlife.

Employees of public fire and rescue services have extensive powers in the event of an emergency, and more limited powers in other circumstances, such as fire investigations.

Prison officers have the powers, authority, protection, and privileges of a constable when acting as prison officers.[58]

Civilian Security Officers (CSO) of the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service whilst on duty hold similar powers to those of a Police Constable, as allowed by the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1947. A CSO has the powers of arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE).[59]


From 22 November 2012, police authorities outside London were replaced by directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners. In London the City of London Police continued to be overseen by City of London Corporation, whilst the Mayor of London has responsibility for the governance of the Metropolitan Police.[60]

In Northern Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is supervised by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

In Scotland, Police Scotland is overseen by the Scottish Police Services Authority.

The British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary had their own police authority established in 2004. These forces operate across national jurisdictions but their responsibility is to the specific activities they were established to police.

Police harbour patrol boat in Poole Harbour, Dorset

Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Constabulary

Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Constabulary (HMIC) are the official bodies responsible for the examination and assessment of police forces to ensure their requirements are met as intended.

There are two similarly named organisations:

Crown dependencies and overseas territories

The Crown dependencies and British overseas territories have their own police forces, the majority of which use the British model. Because they are not part of the United Kingdom, they are not answerable to the British Government; instead they are organised by and are responsible to their own governments (an exception to this is the Sovereign Base Areas Police; as the SBAs' existence is solely for the benefit of the British armed forces and do not have full overseas territory status, the SBA Police are responsible to the Ministry of Defence). Because they are based on the British model of policing, these police forces conform to the standards set out by the British government, which includes voluntarily submitting themselves to inspection by the HMIC. Their vehicles share similarities with the vehicles owned by forces based in the UK, such as the use of Battenburg markings.


A police officer on lunchbreak

In the 18th century law enforcement and policing was organised by local communities based on watchmen and constables; the government was not directly involved in policing. The City of Glasgow Police, the first professional police, was established following an Act of Parliament in 1800.[61] London had a population of nearly a million and a half people in the early 19th century but was policed by only 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen.[62] The concept of professional policing was taken up by Sir Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. Peel's Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the greater London area known as the Metropolitan Police.[63] Legislation in the 1830s introduced policing in royal boroughs and many counties and, in the 1850s, policing was established nationally.

The Peelian Principles describe the philosophy that Sir Robert Peel developed to define an ethical police force. The principles traditionally ascribed to Peel state that:

Nine principles of policing were set out in the ‘General Instructions’ issued to every new police officer in the Metropolitan Police from 1829. However, the Home Office has suggested this list was more likely authored by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, the first and joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police.[64][65]

The police historian Charles Reith explained in his New Study of Police History (1956)[64] that these principles constituted a philosophy of policing "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public".[66] This approach to policing became known as "policing by consent".[65]

Since the 1940s, police forces in the United Kingdom have been merged and modernised.

Height of officers

In the 19th and early 20th centuries most forces required that recruits be at least 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) in height. By 1960 many forces had reduced this to 5 feet 8 inches (173 cm), and 5 feet 4 inches (163 cm) for women. Many senior officers deplored this, believing that height was a vital requirement for a uniformed constable.[67] Some forces retained the height standard at 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) or 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm) until the early 1990s, when the height standard was gradually removed. This is due to the MacPherson report of 1999, as the height restriction was seen to possibly discriminate against those of ethnic backgrounds who may be genetically predisposed to be shorter. No British force now requires its recruits to be of any minimum height. The shortest officer in the UK, PC Sue Day of Wiltshire Police, is 4 feet 10 inches (147 cm) tall.[68] The tallest is PC Anthony Wallyn of the Metropolitan Police who is 7 feet 2 inches (218 cm) tall.[69] Both officers had to have their uniforms specially made for them due to their size. In May 1990, the minimum height requirement was dropped by the Metropolitan Police, and all Provincial Police Forces followed suit by September 1990.


Throughout the United Kingdom, the rank structure of police forces is identical up to the rank of Chief Superintendent. At higher ranks, structures are distinct within London where the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police have a series of Commander and Commissioner ranks as their top ranks whereas other UK police forces have assistants, deputies and a Chief Constable as their top ranks. All Commissioners and Chief Constables are equal in rank.

Uniform and equipment

Uniforms, the issuing of firearms, type of patrol cars, and other equipment, varies by force. Unlike police in most other developed countries, the vast majority of British police officers do not carry firearms on standard patrol; they carry Extendable "ASP" or fixed Monadnock PR-24 batons and CS/PAVA spray.

Every territorial force has a specialist Firearms Unit,[70] which maintains Armed Response Vehicles to respond to firearms-related emergency calls. One territorial force (the Police Service of Northern Ireland) and two of the special police forces, (the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police), are routinely armed.

London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) firearms unit is the Specialist Firearms Command (SC019 - formerly SO19 and C019), but every force in the United Kingdom has firearms-trained officers available should the need arise. Metropolitan and City of London Police operate with three officers per Armed Response Vehicle (ARV), composed of a driver, a navigator, and an observer who gathers information about the incident and liaises with other units. Other police forces carry two Authorised Firearms Officers instead of three. Armed Police carry a combination of weapons, ranging from German Heckler & Koch MP5 carbines, Heckler & Koch PSG1 Sniper rifles, Heckler & Koch Baton Guns (which fire baton rounds) and Heckler & Koch G36Cs to a number of specialist weapons such as the Remington pump-action shotgun. Marksmen in the London Metropolitan Police,[71] Police Service of Northern Ireland and other also use Accuracy International Arctic Warfare. Since 2009 Tasers have also been issued to members of response teams for use when deadly force may not be warranted.

Initial training

England and Wales

There are three curricula for new police constables, special constables and police community support officers:[72]

Initial Police Learning and Development Programme

Successful completion of the IPLDP over two years will result in a (mandatory) Diploma in Policing (Level 3 Qualifications and Credit Framework) consisting of ten mandatory units.

Initial Learning for the Special Constabulary

Derived from the IPLDP and although not linked to a formal qualification as such; IL4SC requires the learning outcomes and National Occupational Standards (NOSs) are met in order to become compliant. This curriculum will bring an officer to the 'point of safe and lawful accompanied patrol'.[73] This course equates to roughly 3.5 weeks of direct learning.

PCSO National Learning Programme

Successfully completion of the PCSO NLP over a period of six months to a year will result in a non-mandatory Certificate in Policing and this equates to 10 weeks of direct learning and consists of six mandatory units. Four of these units also feature within the IPLDP and being a QCF qualification, this can allow for officers wishing to become police officers for 'Recognition of Prior Learning' (RPL) and the transfer of such units to the IPLDP scheme.[72]


All initial probationer training in Scotland is undertaken at the Scottish Police College (or SPC) at Tulliallan Castle. Recruits initially spend 12 weeks at the SPC before being posted to their divisions and over the next two years return to the SPC a number of times to complete examinations and fitness tests.[74] Training is composed of four distinct modules undertaken at various locations with some parts being delivered locally and some centrally at the SPC.[75]

Training for Special Constables is delivered locally at seven locations throughout Scotland over a series of evenings and/or weekends. The training is split into two parts, with the first phase being delivered in a classroom environment before being sworn in as a Special Constable and the second phase is delivered after being sworn in. Upon successful completion of both parts of the training programme Special Constables are awarded a certificate of achievement and would be eligible to complete an abbreviated course at the Scottish Police College should they later wish to join the Police Service of Scotland as a regular officer.[76]

Organisation of police forces

As all police forces are autonomous organisations there is much variation in organisation and nomenclature, however outlined below are the main strands of policing that makes up police forces:


Deaths after contact with the police

The police service is sometimes criticised for incidents that result in deaths due to police firearms usage or in police custody, as well as the lack of competence and impartiality in investigations (in England and Wales only) by the Independent Police Complaints Commission after these events.[77] The Economist stated in 2009:

Bad apples ... are seldom brought to justice: no policeman has ever been convicted of murder or manslaughter for a death following police contact, though there have been more than 400 such deaths in the past ten years alone. The IPCC is at best overworked and at worst does not deserve the “I” in its name.
The Economist[77]

The Institute of Race Relations defines police use of force leading to death; "The use of force leading to a death can take many forms - from the use of dangerous holds, the shackling and reckless positioning of an individual (more likely to take place in confined places such as cells or vans) to the use of weapons such as batons and chemical restraint like CS or pepper spray and sedatives (especially in psychiatric custody) and shootings by armed police".[78]

In the year 2011/12 there were 15 deaths in or following police custody. There were two fatal police shootings and 39 people died from apparent suicide following contact with the police.[79]

In the year 2012/13 there were 15 deaths in police custody. Nearly half of those who died had known mental health issue and four of those who died had been restrained by police officers. There were 64 deaths by apparent suicide within 48 hours of release from police custody.[80]

In the year 2013/14 there were 11 deaths in or following police custody. The number of people recorded as having apparently committed suicide within 48 hours of release from police custody was 68, a ten-year high.[81]

In the year 2014/15 there were 17 deaths in or following police custody. There was one fatal police shooting and there were 69 apparent suicides following custody.[82]

Controversial shootings

The policy under which police officers in England and Wales use firearms has resulted in controversy. Notorious recent examples include the Stephen Waldorf shooting in 1983, the deliberate fatal shootings of James Ashley in 1998, Harry Stanley in 1999, and Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, and the accidental non-fatal shooting of Abdul Kahar in 2006.

Deaths in police custody

From 1990 to July 2012, 950 deaths occurred in police custody.[83]

In 1997/98, 69 people died in police custody or following contact with the police across England and Wales; 26 resulted from deliberate self-harm.[84]

There are two defined categories of death in custody issued by the Home Office:[85]

Category A: This category also encompasses deaths of those under arrest who are held in temporary police accommodation or have been taken to hospital following arrest. It also includes those who die, following arrest, whilst in a police vehicle.

Category B: Where the deceased was otherwise in the hands of the police or death resulted from the actions of a police officer in the purported execution of his duty.

Issues since 1984

Evidence of corruption in the 1970s, serious urban riots and the police role in controlling industrial disorder in the 1980s, and the changing nature of police procedure made police accountability and control a major political football from the 1990s onwards.


Despite attempts to end what the Macpherson Report described as "institutionalised racism" in the police since the 1993 death of Stephen Lawrence, there have been ongoing problems. At the same time, some commentators and academics have claimed that political correctness and excessive sensitivity to issues of race and class have reduced the effectiveness of the police force, not least for people living in deprived areas or members of minority groups themselves.

In 2003, ten police officers from Greater Manchester Police, North Wales Police and Cheshire Constabulary were forced to resign after a BBC documentary, The Secret Policeman, shown on 21 October, alleged racism among recruits at Bruche Police National Training Centre at Warrington. On 4 March 2005 the BBC noted that minor disciplinary action would be taken against twelve other officers (eleven from Greater Manchester Police and one from Lancashire Constabulary) in connection with the programme, but that they would not lose their jobs. In November 2003, allegations were made that some police officers were members of the British National Party.

In June 2015, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said there was some justification in claims that the Metropolitan Police Service is institutionally racist.[89]


At the beginning of 2005 it was announced that the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) had signed an eight-year £122 m contract to introduce biometric identification technology.[90] PITO are also planning to use CCTV facial recognition systems to identify known suspects; a future link to the proposed National Identity Register has been suggested by some.[91]

Freedom of speech

A number of recent cases where police intervened in matters of free speech have also given rise to allegations that the police are in danger of becoming thought police. In December 2005, author Lynette Burrows was interviewed by police after expressing her opinion on BBC Radio 5 Live that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt children.[92] The following month, Sir Iqbal Sacranie was investigated by police for stating the Islamic view that homosexuality is a sin.[93]

Photography of police

Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 came into force on 15 February 2009[94] making it an offence to elicit, attempt to elicit, or publish information "...of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" about:[95] a member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces; a constable, the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, or Government Communications Headquarters. Any person found guilty faces 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.[95] It is a defence for a person charged with this offence to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action.[95] It is not otherwise illegal to photograph or film a police officer in a public place per se. It must be noted however that any film or photography recorded whilst a constable is dealing with an incident may be seized as becomes evidence under section 19 of Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Policing of public protests

In April 2009, a total of 145 complaints were made following clashes between police and protesters at the G20 summit.[96] Incidents including the death of 47-year-old Ian Tomlinson,[97] minutes after an alleged assault by a police officer,[98] and a separate alleged assault on a woman by a police officer,[99] has led to criticism of police tactics during protests.[100] In response, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) to review policing tactics,[101] including the practice of kettling.[102]

Police undercover conduct

During 2010 and 2011, it emerged that, while engaged in covert infiltration of protest groups, undercover police officers had entered into intimate relationships with a number of people on false pretences and under assumed aliases, in some cases sharing a home, making plans for weddings, or fathering children, only to vanish after some years when their role was complete. In 2015 a public inquiry under a senior judge was announced. In November 2015 the Metropolitan Police published an unreserved apology in which it exonerated and apologized to those women who had been deceived and stated the methodology had constituted abuse and a "gross violation" with severely harmful effects, as part of a settlement of their cases. In 2016 new cases continued to come to light.

Fixated Threat Assessment Centre

In the United Kingdom, the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre is a joint police/mental health unit set up in October 2006 by the Home Office, the Department of Health and Metropolitan Police Service to identify and address those individuals considered to pose a threat to VIPs or the Royal Family. [103] They may then be referred to local health services for further assessment and potential involuntary commitment. In some cases, they may be detained by police under the section 136 powers of the Mental Health Act 1983 prior to referral.

Police force mergers

Proposed mergers for England and Wales

As of 2013 there were 45 territorial police forces in the UK.

In 1981 James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, called for 10 regional police forces for England and Wales, one for each region that would be adopted as Government Office Regions in England, plus Wales.[104]

A 2004 proposal by the Police Superintendents' Association for the creation of a single national police force, similar to Garda Síochána na hÉireann was objected to by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The government did not accept the proposal at the time.[105]

In September 2005, in a report[106] delivered to the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary suggested that the forty-three force structure in England and Wales was "no longer fit for purpose" and smaller forces should be merged. In 2005 nineteen forces had fewer than 2,000 regular officers each, and the report suggested that forces with 4,000 or more officers performed better and could save costs.[107] Forces were asked to produce proposals for mergers, within Wales and the English Government Office Regions. Nearly all the existing forces were under the 4,000 limit, with only the Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police, Northumbria Police, Thames Valley Police, West Midlands Police and West Yorkshire Police over the limit - see Table of police forces in the United Kingdom for a full list.

Draft options were announced in November 2005.[108] The Home Office offered money to police authorities that decided to voluntarily merge ahead of schedule, and was consequently accused of attempting to "bribe" unwilling Chief Constables into compliance.[109] The proposals were debated in the House of Commons on 19 December 2005.[110] Most Chief Constables and police authorities did not back the measure,[111] and some suggested that cross-regional mergers would make more sense (for example, Hampshire Constabulary in the South East suggested it could merge with Dorset Police in the South West, whilst there was also a suggestion of North Wales Police increasing co-operation with Cheshire Police)[112]

On 6 February 2006, preferred options for several regions were announced by the Home Secretary in a written ministerial statement,[113][114] and set a deadline of 24 February for forces to agree to the mergers. By this dead-line the only merger to have the agreement of all forces involved was the Cumbria/Lancashire merger. Cheshire was opposed to a merger with Merseyside, and West Mercia and Cleveland were holdouts in their regions, whilst all the Welsh forces opposed the creation of a single Welsh force.[115] The Home Secretary had the power to order the Cumbria/Lancashire merger to proceed by statutory instrument under the Police Act 1996, and also to force through the contested mergers, given a four-month consultation period. In a Written Statement made on 3 March 2006,[116] he announced that the Lancashire/Cumbria merger could be ordered in May, and that the consultation period on the others was starting, and would end on 2 July 2006. The new forces would come into being on 1 April 2007.[117][118]

A second batch of merger proposals were made on 20 March 2006, with the Eastern, East Midlands and South East regions covered. A deadline of 7 April 2006 was set for responses, after which it was expected that the process above would be followed.[119][120][121] The following day, the Home Secretary proposed a merger of all four forces in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.[122] The consultation period on this second batch of mergers started on 11 April 2006, and would have finished on 11 August, with a target of 1 April 2008 for the mergers coming into effect.[123]

Greater London
Metropolitan Police officers on the beat in London's Trafalgar Square

Upon the publication of the proposals, the Greater London area was not included. This was due to two separate reviews of policing in the capital - the first was a review by the Department of Transport into the future role and function of the British Transport Police. The second was a review by the Attorney-General into national measures for combating fraud (the City of London Police is one of the major organisations for combating economic crime).[124] Both the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, and the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, stated that they would like to see a single police force in London, with the Metropolitan Police absorbing the City of London Police and the functions of the British Transport Police in London.[125] However, the proposal to merge both the BTP and City forces with the Met caused significant criticism from several areas; the House of Commons Transport Select Committee severely criticised the idea of the Metropolitan Police taking over policing of the rail network in a report published on 16 May 2006,[126] while the City of London Corporation and several major financial institutions in The City made public their opposition to the City Police merging with the Met.[127] In a statement on 20 July 2006, the Transport Secretary announced that there would be no structural or operational changes to the British Transport Police, effectively ruling out any merger[128] The interim report by the Attorney General's fraud review recognised the role taken by the City Police as the lead force in London and the South-East for tackling fraud, and made a recommendation that, should a national lead force be required, the City Police, with its expertise, would be an ideal candidate to take this role.[129] This view was confirmed on the publication of the final report, which recommended that the City of London Police's Fraud Squad should be the national lead force in combatting fraud, to "act as a centre of excellence, disseminate best practice, give advice on complex inquiries in other regions, and assist with or direct the most complex of such investigations"[130]

Separate from the proposals raised by the Mayor of London and Metropolitan Police Commissioner was a plan by the government to reform policing in the Royal Parks. Since 1872 this had been the responsibility of the Royal Parks Constabulary. A report by former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Anthony Speed provided three options to reform the RPC, with the decision taken that it should be merged with the Metropolitan Police.[131] The Met took over responsibility for policing the Royal Parks on 1 April 2004 with the formation of the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit. The full merger and abolition of the Royal Parks Constabulary took place in May 2006.[132]

In May 2016, following his election, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan ordered a review, led by Lord Harris, of London's preparedness in the face of potential terror attacks. Amongst the recommendations, which were published in October 2016, was a revisiting of the idea of merging the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police and British Transport Police. In commenting, both the City Police and BTP cautioned against the proposal.[133]

Merger abandonment

On 20 June 2006 the new Home Secretary, John Reid, announced that the contested mergers would be delayed for further discussion,[134] and no mergers would be ordered before Parliament's summer recess on 25 July other than the agreed Lancashire/Cumbria one.

On 11 July 2006, it then emerged that the entire proposal for police mergers might be ended, following the decision by the only two forces to have agreed to amalgamation, Cumbria and Lancashire, not to proceed.[135] The announcement of this was followed by the head of the ACPO stating that "The necessary financial support has not materialised and mergers, including voluntary ones, will not take place".[136] On 12 July 2006, the Home Office confirmed that the mergers were to be abandoned, with the entire proposal taken back for consultation.[137]

Other police forces

Policing in Scotland and Northern Ireland does not come under the purview of the Home Office, and so would have remained unaffected by these proposals. Likewise, the major non-territorial forces (British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Ministry of Defence Police) are responsible to other government departments, and so would not have been affected by this review.

List of proposed mergers

Note: these mergers have all been suspended in the long term while a further review and consultation into policing in England and Wales takes place

Region Proposed force
Eastern Merge Bedfordshire Police, Essex Police and Hertfordshire Constabulary
Merge Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Norfolk Constabulary and Suffolk Constabulary
East Midlands Merge Derbyshire Constabulary, Leicestershire Constabulary, Lincolnshire Police, Northamptonshire Police and Nottinghamshire Police
London London not included in the review of policing, so City of London Police and Metropolitan Police unaffected.
North-East Merge Cleveland Police, Durham Constabulary and Northumbria Police
North-West Merge Cumbria Constabulary and Lancashire Constabulary
Merge Cheshire Constabulary and Merseyside Police
Greater Manchester Police unchanged
South-East Kent Police unchanged
Merge Surrey Police and Sussex Police
Hampshire Constabulary unchanged
Thames Valley Police unchanged
South-West[138] Option 1: Merge Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, Gloucestershire Constabulary, Dorset Police and Wiltshire Constabulary
Option 2: Merge Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Gloucestershire Constabulary, Wiltshire Constabulary and Dorset Police
Devon and Cornwall Constabulary unchanged
Wales Merge Dyfed-Powys Police, Gwent Police, North Wales Police and South Wales Police
West Midlands Merge Staffordshire Police, Warwickshire Police, West Mercia Constabulary, West Midlands Police
Yorkshire and Humberside Merge Humberside Police, North Yorkshire Police, South Yorkshire Police, West Yorkshire Police

Creation of a single police service in Scotland

In 2010, the Justice Secretary in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, outlined plans for reform of policing in Scotland. Under a consultation, three proposals would be discussed in light of the financial situation and the need for some level of budget cuts:

  1. The eight existing police forces are retained, but with "increased collaboration"
  2. Policing in Scotland moves towards a more regional structure, with the number of individual forces reduced
  3. All eight Scottish police forces are merged to form a single Scottish police service

According to the Scottish Government, approximately 25% of the total police budget in Scotland is spent on Headquarters costs. The Scottish National Party has made a commitment to increasing numbers of police officers by up to 1,000. Both Labour and the Conservatives have come out in favour of a single force, while the Liberal Democrats are against this proposal.[139] Following the 2011 Holyrood election, in which the SNP gained a majority, the proposal for a single police force in Scotland was introduced as part of the Scottish Government's new legislative agenda in September 2011.[140] This created a force of approximately 17,000 police officers, the second largest in the United Kingdom after the Metropolitan Police in London.[141][142]

Following the passing of an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 2012, a new single force for the whole of Scotland - to be known as Police Scotland - came into effect on 1 April 2013.

In March 2015, following the transfer of police oversight powers to the Scottish Government,[143] the Justice Secretary announced proposals to further unify policing in Scotland by merging the British Transport Police's operations north of the border with Police Scotland.[144] This proposal subsequently came in for significant criticism from both the rail industry and unions.[145][146]

UK Visas and Immigration

See also: UK Visas and Immigration, previously UK Border Agency

As part of the wide ranging review of the Home Office, the then Home Secretary, John Reid, announced in July 2006 that all British immigration officers would be uniformed. On 1 April 2007 the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) was created and commenced operation. However, there were no police officers in the Agency, a matter that attracted considerable criticism when the Agency was established - agency officers have limited powers of arrest. Further powers for designated officers within the Agency, including powers of detention pending the arrival of a police officer, were introduced by the UK Borders Act 2007.[147]

The Government has effectively admitted the shortcomings of the Agency by making a number fundamental changes within a year of its commencement. On 1 April 2008 the BIA became the UK Border Agency following a merger with UKvisas, the port of entry functions of HM Revenue and Customs. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) "...will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and parts of HM Revenue and Customs at the border, [and] will work closely with the police and other law enforcement agencies to improve border controls and security."[148]

Within months of this, the Home Secretary revealed (in a 16-page response to a report by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation) that the Home Office will issue a Green Paper proposing to take forward proposals by the Association of Chief Police Officers (England & Wales) for the establishment of a new 3,000-strong national border police force to work alongside the Agency.[149][150]

Border Force

Following a major enquiry into the UK Border Agency that exposed significant flaws in the operation of border controls, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that the Border Force, which is responsible for manning all points of entry into the United Kingdom, would be split from the control of the UKBA and become a separate organisation with direct accountability to ministers and a "law-enforcement ethos".[151] Brian Moore, the former Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, was appointed as the first head of the new UKBF.[152]

National Serious Crime Force (England and Wales)

In April 2007, the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron announced the Conservative Party's proposals for reform of policing. These included:

In addition, the proposals made clear that on the issue of serious crime the 43 police forces in England and Wales would either have to have greater cooperation, or that the serious crime elements of their function would be invested in a National Serious Crime Force.[153]

Police pay

The decision by the Home Secretary to refuse to implement, in England and Wales, the recommendation of the Police Arbitration Tribunal of a 2.5% increase in pay has caused widespread anger, especially as this decision stood in sharp contrast to the decision of the Scottish Government to fully implement the award for police officers in Scotland by backdating it to 1 September 2007.[154] By instead implementing the award with effect from 1 December 2007, the Home Secretary effectively reduced it to 1.9%, claiming that this was necessary to control inflation, despite the fact that police authorities had already made provision for the full 2.5% increase from their revenue budgets. There were marches on Westminster by off-duty officers as a result.

Overseas police forces in the UK

There are certain instances where police forces of other nations operate in a limited degree in the United Kingdom:

See also






  1. Administration of police matters is not generally affected by the Government of Wales Act 2006.


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