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.
In this article we discuss the various situations where you are asked for ID. In part 2 we examine the police’s power of arrest for “non-arrestable offences”. Part 3 covers the situation regarding proving your identity, even after you have given your name and address. Part 4 looks at the recent use of Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 which makes it an offence to give your details in certain situations. Part 5 covers the situation where car drivers are asked to provide identification.
The main situation where you have to give your name and address to the police is when they want to give you a summons for a non-arrestable offence (see our legal handbook for more details on this). This is when they do not have the powers to arrest you and take you down to the police station to be formally charged.
Section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) states that the police can arrest you where they reasonably suspect that you have committed a non-arrestable offence, and serving you with a summons is inappropriate because they cannot establish your name and address or - in short - because they reasonably suspect that the details you have given are false.
You have two choices in this situation: either provide your details to the officer there and then, or refuse. How you play it depends on the circumstances. If you refuse to give your details you can be arrested and taken to a police station, but be aware that the police may well be bluffing simply to get your details. If you know the law, you will have some idea whether the police do reasonably suspect you or if they are just fishing for information. If they say they suspect you of an offence, you should ask them to state what the offence is – this will make it easier for you to decide if they “reasonably suspect” you of the offence or not. If you are arrested under Section 25 PACE, the police must release you as soon as they have established your name and address.
If you do decide to give the police your name and address, they may still arrest you if they reasonably believe that the details you have given are not true. This is where they may ask you for some form of identification. There is no obligation to provide the police with ID, and the police can make various checks to establish this – see next section.
Regardless of what the police may say, it is currently not ‘illegal’ not to carry ID, though the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is trying to change this under the spurious guise of preventing terrorism. This is a blatant infringement of your privacy, rights and only leads down the road to a fascist state. This is one situation where we really do encourage you to write to your MP and the Home Office voicing your objection to these plans. (For more information on campaigns against compulsory ID cards see www.no2id.net and www.defy-id.org.uk)
If you do provide details to the police, they may question their accuracy and demand proof. If the police have demanded your details under Section 25 PACE and they 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. It is not uncommon for the police to arrest you initially but then release you down the road when they realise you have called their bluff.
Even if you have no ID on you, the police can often establish your details by checking the electoral register or the Police National Computer. Nowadays they can check the Motor Insurance Database that gives them the name and address of the keeper of the 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 ID.
Another method they sometimes use is to ask for the phone number of someone who can confirm your name and address. If you have no ID on you and you think you're going to be arrested, you can offer the phone number say of your solicitor who will confirm your identity. If the police refuse to phone them, it will be hard for them to argue later that they "reasonably suspected" that the details you gave were false, as a reasonable police officer would of course attempt to phone the solicitor.
Don’t forget that although the police usually ask you for your address, Section 25 PACE states that they can only arrest you where they reasonably suspect that the address you provide is not satisfactory for the service of a summons. So if you give the phone number and address of a friend or solicitor who can confirm that they will receive a summons for you on your behalf, then the police cannot then say that they have reason to doubt that the address is satisfactory. Obviously this is something you would need to arrange in advance, but it’s worth remembering if you’d rather not give your residential address to the police.
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 all they do is demanding proof of ID, there is a very good chance that they are bluffing and that the real purpose of this is intelligence gathering.
Note: A police officer should be in uniform with a rank number, or if in plain clothes show a warrant card before they can start making demands.
A recent development in police attempts to gain activist’s details is the use of Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002. 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. Section 50 carries no specific power of arrest, but if you refuse to give your name and address, then the police can say that they suspect you of committing a non-arrestable offence and Section 25 PACE applies – see Sections 2 and 3 above.
The use by the police of this power will at some stage be challenged in court, as it was not designed to deal with political protest but with anti-social behaviour, for example by youths on housing estates. But certain police forces - notably Staffordshire – are currently using the power, and you should be aware that they could arrest you if you refuse to give details when required under this Section. There is no requirement under Section 50 to give your date of birth.
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 can say that they reasonably suspect you of committing a non-arrestable offence. They may then threaten you with arrest under Section 25 of PACE on the grounds that they cannot establish your name and address – see parts 2 and 3 above. 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 non-arrestable offence – eg not wearing a seat belt. 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, then there is often a note on the Police National Computer requesting that the officer discreetly obtains the identities of all its occupants. A local police force may also have a policy of doing this where there is a history of activism in its area.
A typical example of passengers being asked for their details is where you are on the way to a demo and the police pull over the vehicle you are travelling in and ask for the names and addresses of all its occupants. If it is obvious that this is just a standard ‘pull’, then passengers definitely do not have to give their details as the police have pulled you over simply to check you out rather than to investigate an offence.
The only time you ever have to give your date of birth is where you are the driver of a vehicle. You DO NOT have to give your date of birth where the police are threatening you with arrest under Section 25 PACE, and this includes situations where the police are using Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (see above). We have emphasised this because whenever the police ask for your name and address they nearly always ask for your date of birth as well. You do not even have to give your date of birth if you have been arrested and charged.
Sec. 164: http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/Ukpga_19880052_en_8.htm#mdiv164
Sec. 165: http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/Ukpga_19880052_en_8.htm#mdiv165
(1) Where a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any offence which is not an arrestable offence has been committed or attempted, or is being committed or attempted, he may arrest the relevant person if it appears to him that service of a summons is impracticable or inappropriate because any of the general arrest conditions is satisfied.
(2) In this section “the relevant person” means any person whom the constable has reasonable grounds to suspect of having committed or having attempted to commit the offence or of being in the course of committing or attempting to commit it.
(3) The general arrest conditions are—
a. that the name of the relevant person is unknown to, and cannot be readily ascertained by, the constable;
b. that the constable has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name furnished by the relevant person as his name is his real name;
(i) the relevant person has failed to furnish a satisfactory address for service; or
(ii) the constable has reasonable grounds for doubting whether an address furnished by the relevant person is a satisfactory address for service;
d. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to prevent the relevant person—
(i) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;
(ii) suffering physical injury;
(iii) causing loss of or damage to property;
(iv) committing an offence against public decency; or
(v) causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway;
e. that the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the relevant person.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3) above an address is a satisfactory address for service if it appears to the constable—
a. that the relevant person will be at it for a sufficiently long period for it to be possible to serve him with a summons; or
b. that some other person specified by the relevant person will accept service of a summons for the relevant person at it.
This article is for information purposes only; its aim is to let people to know their full rights under UK law. Nothing on these pages is absolute as the law is always changing; if in doubt contact a trusted solicitor for further advice. We do not encourage you to break the law.
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© Copyright freeB.E.A.G.L.E.S.; last updated: May 2004