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Do police have the power to use force?

Currently the law allows the police to use reasonable force when necessary in order to carry out their role of law enforcement. The three main powers relating to the use of force are contained within:

  • common law
  • section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967
  • section 117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 suggests that whether or not the use of force was reasonable in the circumstances will be decided with reference to the circumstances as the officer believed them to be at the time of the force, ie, when making the arrest.

Responsibility for the use of force rests with the police officer exercising that force. Officers must be able to show that the use of force was lawful, proportionate and necessary in the circumstances. Using handcuffs, for example, may not always be a necessary or proportionate response. Please note, use of force may also engage articles 2 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), where the force is deemed unlawful and/or unnecessary.

Police officers are also guided by three core questions2 when determining when, and to what extent, force may be used which should be considered alongside the 'Ten Key Principles Governing the Use of Force by the Police Service' 3. These are:

Would the use of force have a lawful objective (e.g., the prevention of injury to others or damage to property, or the effecting of a lawful arrest) and, if so, how immediate and grave is the threat posed?

Are there any means, short of the use of force, capable of attaining the lawful objective identified?

Having regard to the nature and gravity of the threat, and the potential for adverse consequences to arise from the use of force (including the risk of escalation and the exposure of others to harm) what is the minimum level of force required to attain the objective identified, and would the use of that level of force be proportionate or excessive?

1 http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/allegations_of_criminal_offences_against_the_police/ 

2 https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/public-order/core-principles-and-legislation/police-use-of-force/ 

3HMIC (2011) The rules of engagement: A review of the August 2011 disorders.