What is PACE 1984 and why is it important?

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) was introduced to balance the powers of the police and the rights of the individual. PACE is segmented into codes of practice, codes A-H, which give a number of statutory rights to police officers from pre-arrest stop and search to the treatment of suspects when in detention and questioning.

Human Rights

Police officers must use PACE in conjunction with the Human Rights Act 1998 whilst also being in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As a result, this means PACE is greatly affected by article 5 of the ECHR which provides that everyone has the right to liberty and security and anyone arrested should be informed promptly in a l

anguage which they understand. In addition to this, article 6 of the ECHR, which covers right to a fair trial, can mean that unlawfully obtained evidence is disregarded in dispute as to whether the trial would remain fair. As a result, in order to operate in conjunction with human rights’ provisions, police must follow strict procedures when investigating, for example any person who has been brought to the police station as a suspect or volunteer will have their visit logged in a log book which is produced by custody officer who is not connected to the investigation.


Arrest is the restraint of liberty of a person under law. For an arrest to be in accordance with PACE, it can be with or without a warrant whilst being in accordance with code G, the statutory power of arrest. The procedure on arrest is provided for under s28 of PACE, allowing for the suspect to be told the facts and ground for their arrest. If this is not met it could amount to the arrest to being unlawful and any evidence obtained as a result of this unlawful arrest may be excluded by the court. What is important to mention is that a police officer cannot arrest someone at random, as this will mean they will be in breach of article 5 of ECHR.

Arrest with a warrant means that an application to the magistrates would have been made by the police to enable the accused to be arrested and compel court evidence. A requisition may also be issued to the accused if they have failed to attend court. Warrants can also be issued by ‘backed for bail’ where the police are instructed to arrest the accused and release him on bail on the obligation to attend court at the time and date specified on the warrant. This is used to prevent unnecessary detention. Arrests without warrant provide a single statutory power of arrest under s24 of PACE which must also be in accordance with code G, which is segmented into a-f:

  1. The name of the suspect is ascertained

  2. The address of the suspect is ascertained

  3. Prevent the suspect causing further injury, suffering, loss or damage or further unlawful obstruction

  4. To protect a vulnerable person

  5. To allow a prompt and effective investigation

  6. To prevent any prosecution being hindered by the disappearance of the suspect

For the arrest to be lawful without a warrant there must be the belief that the suspect has involvement, suspected involvement or attempted involvement, in the offence and there also being reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary. This gives room for the two part test of reasonable grounds of arrest to be used, established in O’Hara V Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (1997). The test is both objective and subjective, in that there is actual suspicion and reasonable suspicion, under s24(1) of PACE which allows an officer to arrest anyone who is about to commit or is in the act of committing a crime.

Procedure on arrest falls under s28 of PACE and states the suspect should be informed of the grounds of his arrest. For the arrest to be lawful, the grounds of arrest should be told to the suspect at the time of the arrest or as soon as practically possible afterwards; if not informed it can lead to the arrest being unlawful. Reasonable force, in accordance with s117 of PACE, can be used to carry out arrest. However, excessive force may lead to the arrest being unlawful. When arrested, code C requires that the suspect must be advised as to his right to remain silent, also known as a caution, unless this is unreasonable due to the condition of the behaviour. Finally, under s30 of PACE, the arrested suspect should then be taken to a designated police station, unless other investigations should be carried out first.

Search on arrest is subject to s32(1)-(2) of PACE, which permits a police officer to search the person arrested if there is reasonable grounds to believe that the person may be a danger to himself or others, may have something concealed which he may use to escape custody and may have something concealed which could be used as evidence in relation to the offence. Once the suspect has been “booked in”, the custody officer, who has not got a connection to the case under s54 of PACE, can authorise a search of the suspect.


Detention at the police station is where the police will decide to proceed or let the suspect go, with the authorisation of the custody officer under Code C of PACE. This covers the detention, treatment and questioning of the suspect. However, if there is insufficient evidence the custody officer may order detention without charge, this is where time limits will apply. On arrival at the police station the arrested will be handed over to a custody officer unconnected to the investigation. The custody officer is responsible for overseeing the detention of the arrested person, under s39(1) of PACE, and they have the duty to keep a custody record. The custody record should contain the time of arrival, property taken on arrest, times of interviews, refreshments and requests for legal advice. Under s54 of PACE the custody officer may order a search of the arrested person and if done this should be noted in the custody record. S37 of PACE gives the custody officer power to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the suspect; if evidence is sufficient they must either charge the suspect or refer the case to the CPS on the decision to charge.

A suspect, however, may be detained without charge under s37(2) of PACE in order to preserve or obtain evidence by questioning. Detention without charge incorporates strict time limits in which a suspect should be charged or released once detained under s41 of PACE. Here, it is established that there should be 24 hours from the time the arrested person is brought to the police station; after this time period they should either be charged or released unless further detention is authorised. For indictable offences or offences which are of a serious nature, a further 12 hours may be authorised (s42(1) of PACE). Under s43 of PACE a further 36 hours maybe authorised by the magistrates court for detention without charge.

The importance of PACE

PACE is important to the criminal justice system as it allows for a balance of police powers and the rights of the individual. It ensures that the evidence obtained has been done so within the law, allowing for a fair trial which is kept in conjunction with ECHR article 6. This helps reduce and eliminate injustices. PACE also allows the accused, from the moment of a being arrested, to fully understand the procedures whilst in custody and what they are entitled to. This means that there is an element of transparency to the criminal justice system as a whole.

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