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The UK's Police Authorities

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 22 Jun 2017 | comments*Discuss
Police Uk Authorities Home Office

Foreign nationals may come into contact with the UK police for a number of reasons. Some foreign nationals may be required to report to the police whilst in the UK, others may wish to ask the police for help and some may become involved with the police because they are suspected of having committed a crime.

Structure of UK Police Authorities

In England and Wales the Home Office has ultimate responsibility for the police. In Scotland the police are overseen by the Scottish Office. However, the UK’s police authorities are divided into independent, regional police forces each with its own Chief Constable and Police Authority.

The police work together with the other emergency services – primarily the ambulance and fire services – to provide a coordinated response to emergencies.

Contacting the Police

There is a single number – 999 - which can be used to contact any of the UK’s emergency services. (Callers who dial the EU emergency number – 112 – will be re-routed to the UK number.) Calls to 999 are free. 999 should only be used when the call is very urgent and requires immediate attention – for example a person’s life is at risk or a crime is being committed. Using this number for less serious matters may result in the emergency services failing to provide assistance where it is most needed.

When contacting the police for less urgent reasons the telephone number for the local police force or station should be used.

Reporting to the Police for Immigration Purposes

Some foreign nationals may have to report to the police while they are in the UK. This may apply to the citizens of certain countries or to those who are classified as stateless. If a foreign national is required to report to the police during their stay in the UK, this will be noted in their passport when they obtain their UK travel documents. Generally this condition will only be applied to citizens over the age of 16 of certain specified countries who have been given leave to stay in the UK for over 6 months. (The relevant list of countries can be found in Appendix 2 of the UK’s Immigration Rules.)

Foreign nationals who are required to report to the police should register within 7 days of their arrival in the UK. To register they will need their passport, two passport photographs and the registration fee. Visitors should contact their local police station to find out where they can register. Foreign nationals staying in the area covered by the Metropolitan Police (broadly Greater London) will register at the Overseas Visitors Records Office which is located south of London Bridge on Borough High Street.

What to Expect if Arrested by the UK Police

Anyone stopped or arrested by the police in the UK has certain rights. In most cases the police cannot search or arrest an individual unless they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the individual is or may be involved in criminal activity. If an individual is arrested by the police they should be informed that they are being arrested as soon as possible. The police should also formally caution the individual – popularly known as being “read your rights”. If an individual resists arrest the police are legally allowed to use “reasonable force” to arrest them.

If an individual has been arrested they may usually only be held for up to 24 hours. During this time they may be questioned. They have the right to seek legal advice and also to contact someone to tell them that they have been arrested. After 24 hours the individual must either be charged or released. The permission of a senior policeman or a magistrate must be obtained if the individual is to be held for a longer time. If an individual is charged with an offence they may either be held in custody pending their presentation to a court or they may be released on bail to appear at a later date.

Making a Complaint About the Police

The activities of the UK police are heavily regulated by laws which are intended to ensure that the police do not abuse their powers. If an individual believes that a police officer or a police force has not behaved appropriately, and cannot resolve their complaint at the local level, an official complaint may be made.

Since 2004 the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been the UK organisation which deals with complaints about the police in England and Wales. In Scotland complaints about the police are initially dealt with by the police themselves. Allegations of criminal activity against the Scottish police may be reported to the Area Procurator Fiscal.

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