There are a limited number of situations in which you have to give your details to the police. Even if you have been stopped and searched, you do not have to provide your details. Intelligence gathering is always on the mind of police. They are continually asking questions to get information out of you. Where activism and demonstrations are concerned, they want to know who is who, and that means getting your name, address and any other personal details they can.
Below we cover the situations in which you would have to give your details to the police.
1. Summons / street bail
In a situation where the police want to give you a summons for an offence you will have to give your details to them to avoid being arrested. If you refuse or they reasonably believe that they details you have given them are false, they may decide to arrest you.
Police may want to issue you with a summons when they do not want to arrest you or they believe they have enough evidence against you to get a court to take action to bring you in for a hearing. It is similar for street bail – you will be arrested, but not taken to a police station. They will fill out what paperwork is necessary at the time and then tell you a date on which you must attend the police station to find out what they intend to do.
*a little bit of knowledge about the law will help here, as you will be better prepared to decide if the police have “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed an offence or not and therefore if they have the right to take your details or summons you to court. You also do not have to give your date of birth to the police in this situation.
2. Section 50 Police Reform Act 2002 – Persons acting in an anti-social manner
This makes it an offence to refuse to give your name and address to a police officer, where the officer reasonably suspects that you have engaged in “anti-social behaviour”. “Anti-social behaviour” is defined as behaviour that has caused harassment, alarm or distress to other people, so it’s not difficult for the police to say that they suspect this in protest situations. They do, however, need to have “reasonable suspicion” that you have done so.
(1) If a constable in uniform has reason to believe that a person has been acting, or is acting, in an anti-social manner (within the meaning of section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37)(anti-social behaviour orders)), he may require that person to give his name and address to the constable.
(2) Any person who—
(a) fails to give his name and address when required to do so under subsection (1), or
(b) gives a false or inaccurate name or address in response to a requirement under that subsection,
is guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
The Crime and Disorder Act defines Anti-Social Behaviour as behaving in “a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as” the person suspected of acting in such a way.
You do not have to give your date of birth under section 50. You should also know that section 50 is a very good piece of legislation for the police as, if you refuse to give your details on the street, they will arrest you and (usually) get your details at the station*. It may turn out that they have acted unlawfully, but they still know who you are.
Advice from the Network for Police Monitoring includes:
If you are told to give your details under ‘section 50′:
- Clarify that they are using s50 Police Reform Act. If possible, record them saying this. In some circumstances the police have subsequently denied using s50 powers, claiming that people gave their details voluntarily.
- Ask them to tell you exactly what they believe you have done that constitutes anti-social behaviour. They must have a reasonable belief that you did something likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’.
- If possible film what they do, or record what they say on your mobile phone.
- It is not enough for the police to say they believe you are ‘going to’ engage in anti-social behaviour. Section 50 powers do not apply to possible future actions – only if a person ‘has been acting, or is acting in an anti-social manner’.
3. Driving a vehicle – Road Traffic Act 1988
(This is the only time you have to give your date of birth to the police, unless you’re under arrest)
A very common way of gathering intelligence is to get the names and addresses of car drivers. The police have the right to stop any vehicle and demand to see driving license, MOT and insurance documents. They may also demand that the driver give his name, address and date of birth. This is covered by section 164 and 165 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, as long as you produce the documents within seven days, or as soon as practicably possible thereafter, you have a defence and will not be prosecuted for an offence. If you do not have any of the documents, the police officer will normally give you a ‘producer’ to show them at a police station of your choice.
If you cannot produce any of the above documents at the time the police ask for them, or if you refuse to give your name, address or date of birth, they may then threaten you with arrest on the grounds that they cannot establish your name and address. It’s quite rare for the police to do this in these situations, and you will normally simply get a ‘producer’, but activists should be aware that this power is available to the police.
Passengers are not required to give their names regardless of what the police say – they are not covered by the Road Traffic Act in this situation, and would only have to give their name and address if they were suspected of having committed some other offence or were not wearing a seat belt, etc. If the police threaten to arrest you as a passenger for not giving your details, you should demand that they tell you the reason why, as the chances are that they are bluffing. If an activist’s car is known to the police, it is likely that they will try to gain everyone’s details.
Proof of Identity
Regardless of what the police may say, you’re not obliged to carry I.D. in the UK. If you do provide details to the police, they may question their accuracy and demand proof. If the police have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the details you have provided are not correct, then they have the power to arrest you in order to establish your name and address. What amounts to “reasonable suspicion” is unclear but any arrest must be justified and if the police cannot demonstrate “reasonable suspicion”, you could sue them afterwards for false imprisonment.
The police are often bluffing in these situations, and it’s quite rare for them to arrest you even if you have no means to confirm your identity, unless they have genuine reason to believe that you are lying. Even if you have no I.D. on you, the police can often establish your details by checking the electoral register or the Police National Computer. They can also check the Motor Insurance Database that gives them the name and address of the owner of a vehicle. If your name comes up on one of these checks, then it will be hard for them to say that they reasonably believe the details you have given are false even if you cannot produce any I.D.
So, in conclusion, stand up for yourself and don’t be bullied into giving details unnecessarily. When it comes to activism and activists, the police will arrest whenever they can. Thus, when they demand proof of I.D. there is a very good chance that they are bluffing and that the real purpose of this is intelligence gathering. A police officer should be in uniform with a number, or, if in plain clothes, show a warrant card before they can start making demands.
The following two videos show encounters with the police when they are attempting to use their powers under section 50. In this first video, the activist filming has been involved in a peaceful protest outside a shop selling fur. The protest consisted of a small group of people holding a banner and handing out leaflets, occasionally saying “please boycott this shop while it continues to sell real fur” and asking passers-by if they would like a leaflet. No megaphones were present at the scene as the protest was deemed to be effective without their use. Protests similar to this one had been taking place at the same location for almost two months and had repeated harassment and unlawful interference by police officers on a weekly basis. Officers had in fact been waiting at the location and patrolling near to the shop for just over two hours before the protesters arrived, in anticipation of the unannounced protest and had gone to speak to the owner of the shop earlier in the day about the protesters. Despite this, patrolling officers initially failed to notice the protest as they walked past it due to how calm and peaceful it was.
<video to come soon>
The video shows an officer attempting to use the law against a protester in order to get her details. The protester later said that she felt frustrated by the officer’s actions and her apparent inability to state why she personally believed that the protester was acting anti-socially. While this isn’t necessary, the court seemed to agree that the protester was asking a reasonable question and had also stated on camera that she would be willing to provide her name and address once the officer had told her what she was doing wrong. Once arrested and taken to the police station, the activist attempted to stay anonymous as she knew they would have to charge her and take her to court the next day if she did so and did not think they had enough evidence to charge her with the offence. However, the police found ID on her person and she was charged under s50 anyway.
Outcome: After 3 days of hearing evidence by the prosecution against the activist and her friends, the prosecutor herself said that she did not believe there was enough evidence against the activists and they were acquitted. While the majority of officers lied in court under oath and stated that they had individually decided to use their powers under s50 (all six of them spontaneously and simultaneously) and their sergeant backed them up on this, one, possibly two of the officers said that the sergeant had told them to use s50 against the protesters. The judge said that the officers had not been thinking independently, that some of them obviously didn’t know what they were doing and that the activists had not been acting anti-socially in any case. The activists then pursued a case against the police for making the unlawful arrests.
This next video shows three activists who had just finished a demonstration in the same location. As it was a much quieter day, the demonstration had lasted only 45 – 50 minutes. During this time, people from the shop in question had come outside and had a calm debate with two of the activists about the reasons they were demonstrating. At the end of the protest, and while the activists were walking away from the shop, two officers stopped their car and called out to the activists. The activists admit that, at this point, they should have refused to stop as the police had no lawful right to detain them. The two officers had attended a demonstration the day before at the same place and had attempted to get the details of a new activist (one of the three from this video), but had been unsuccessful.
<video to come soon>
Outcome: The police got what they wanted – the protester’s details. This law is a sneaky one as, if you give your details to the police, they know who you are. If you don’t, you get arrested and they may just find out who you are at the police station. The activists believe that the arrest was only made so that his details could be obtained and that the police themselves didn’t believe the case would make it to court. The activist was not charged with an offence and, having been on bail for two months, no further action was taken against him. He then pursued a case against the police for unlawfully arresting him.
No convictions were secured against any protesters arrested in this location, despite months of harassment by the police and repeated unlawful uses of and arrests under s14 and s50. Protesters ensured that, each time they made the decision to disobey the police and carry on with their lawful protests before being arrested, enough people were left to carry on with the protest on the street, so that the police could not disrupt their demonstrations entirely. They also made sure that they got video evidence of each interaction with the police for their own records. This was the reason that many of the cases went nowhere and charges/cases were dropped or activists were found “not guilty” in court.