Posts Tagged 'powers of entry'

All we are saying is give peace a chance…

A classic breach of the peace.

The other week I was contacted by one of my Twitter followers curious about an incident he had witnessed in his home town. He’d seen officers arrest a young malefactor to prevent a ‘breach of the peace’ and asked me what the term means.

This is a question that demands a little more than one hundred and forty characters to address so here it is, breach of the peace explained in less than six hundred easily digestible words.

Starting off, a ‘breach of the peace’ is one of the odder offences that we deal with – odd in that it’s not really an offence at all. It has its roots in common law and stems from, as the text itself proclaims, ‘A STATUTE made in the Parliament holden at Westminster; In the Thirty-fourth Year’ called the Justices of the Peace Act 1361.

The Act states that there ‘shall be assigned for the keeping of the Peace, one Lord, and with him three or four of the most worthy in the County, with some learned in the Law, and they shall have Power to restrain the Offenders, Rioters, and all other Barators’ who have offended said peace.

It’s a cracking little law, principally because it seems to imply that we police officers are amongst ‘the most worthy in the County’, and affords us the power to ensure that the Queen’s peace is not disturbed.

In terms of what actually constitutes a breach of the peace, the relatively modern case law arising from R v Howell (1981) defines a breach as ‘wherever harm is actually done or is likely to be done to a person or in his presence his property, or a person is in fear of being so harmed, through an assault, an affray, a riot, unlawful assembly or other disturbance‘.

Police officers have powers both to arrest a person to prevent a breach of the peace occurring, or continuing, and also to enter private property.

On the street an arrest for a breach of the peace is often a last resort and will take place when we’ve made every effort to try and diffuse a situation through other means.

As the definition is relatively wide the power can be used in a variety of different situations, for example when the Met arrested nearly one hundred and eighty EDL members near Whitehall last year out of concern they threatened a breach.

Once a person is arrested to prevent a breach of the peace, they’ll be brought back to the station and a decision made on how to deal with their case. Often they’ll be held until the threat of a breach has passed and they they’ll be released with charge, as was the case with the Met’s EDL arrests.

If the breach was of a particularly serious nature or the detained person has previous history for similar arrests, the alternate option to is to charge them and send them to court. At court the person can be ‘bound over’ meaning that the court requires that they keep the peace in the future.

The ability to arrest to prevent a breach of the peace is useful to officers as it offers a fairly simple way to prevent any substantive criminal offences from taking place and to give the person arrested the chance to calm down a little before he or she does something that they may come to regret.

Ultimately it’s a measure that allows us to try and ensure ‘good Behaviour towards the King and his People’ – something that’s rather important!

You want me? Well come on and break the door down…

A historial image of West Midlands officers forcing entry at Dudley Castle. Probably.

“Can you make an immediate for me?” asked the controller over the radio. A male had sent messages to his girlfriend suggesting he was about to hurt himself and we needed to attended his flat to make sure he was alright. With life and death potentially hanging in the balance, we spared no time in getting to the location. Blue lights blazing a path through the night and the speedo reaching the higher end of the scale, we soon skidded to a halt outside the man’s apartment block and ran inside.

I used my best ‘police knock’ to draw the attention of anyone inside whilst my partner went around the outside to look in through the windows. We knew the male was inside but there was no sign of life. The control room advise us their last update suggested the male had placed a plastic bag over his head.

Still no answer at the door and so the sense of urgency takes over – I take a few steps back and deliver a forceful kick to the wooden door panel. Resolutely it stays still so I deliver another blow, then another and another. The gap begins to widen as the lock loses its grip of the plaster around the frame. Another kick and it’s nearly given way, one more and it slams home against the wall followed shortly after by myself and my partner as we storm the flat and locate the male.

This is a good example of our powers of entry being put into action. S. 17 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act defines the conditions under which we can legally enter a premises. Saving life and limb is only one example of a range of very useful, commonly used powers that see us breaking down doors around the West Midlands on a daily basis.

Other than saving a person’s life, the principle reason that we’ll need to enter a premises is to affect the arrest of a wanted person. S. 17 gives clear indications of the circumstances under which we can do this. They are either that we have been granted a warrant to arrest that person or that the person is guilty of a serious crime, otherwise known as an ‘indictable‘ offence. We have to be able to state why we believed a person was at an address prior to using our powers to go in as otherwise the entry could be seen as unlawful.

In addition to these circumstances, S. 17 furthermore gives us the power to force an entry to apprehend a person who we are either pursuing or is unlawfully at large. Under these conditions, the offence that a person has committed is not relevant – only that rather than stay and talk to us a suspect has decided to take flight and seek refuge from the long arm of the law.

S. 17 also makes reference to some more specific conditions that have had attached their own powers of entry designed to help us achieve specific goals. We are given the power, for example, to force entry and arrest a person who we suspect might have been driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs or whom we think might be guilty of committing an offence under the Public Order Act.

Other laws may also grant us further powers of entry for example the Road Traffic Act which allows us to force entry after a serious traffic accident so that we can administer breath tests on a person who we think has fled the scene of the crash.

In my example, when we found the male he had not suffered any harm. We were able to arrange for him to be seen by medical staff and put in place the help he’d need for the future. Yes, his door will need repairing but this is a small price to pay for having ensured his safety and achieved the right result at the end of the day. This is what our powers of entry are there to ensure – that we are not hindered and can go about our duties to the greatest possible effect.


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