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Meet Bob. Bob was exercising his guaranteed right of freedom of expression by shouting to a high profile politician remarks which implied in no soft terms that they are a corrupt tyrant.

Police quickly gather around Bob to begin stalling for time by keeping Bob occupied by questioning him while the VIP politician had time to get away while spared the nuisance of being reminded how much the human race loathes him.

The police seem to be going for an angle of justifying this interference by pretending to be treating it as a potential public order offence which they haven't yet certainly ascertained the commission or non commission of despite undeniably fully understanding that nothing of a sort that would even make it to, much less stand up in court had been done or uttered.

The senior officer having gotten Bob's side of the story then disappears to get other nearby witnesses' versions of events while some more junior officers stay with Bob asking for his details like full name and date of birth which Bob willingly gives them.

The crux of the question is, the senior officer's MO seemed to be to be as unobtrusive as he could justify, that is to say he first wanted to ascertain the facts that were the reason for his potential interest in the various individuals involved before being concerned about their identities. Presumably if it had been determined that no offence had been committed, then he wouldn't have cared about Bob's identity. The more junior officers who were also incidentally from a different collaborating police force on the other hand were in a sense being as opportunistically intrusive as they could manage to. That is to say before the senior officer had even completed his inquiries as to the facts and circumstances that were the very reason for his attendance they were eager to ascertain Bob's identity in case they could find something on the PNC like a circulation etc.

Is there any statutory or non statutory or even binding or non binding code which governs which of these two approaches is actually to be used? And legally, was Bob entitled to refuse to identify himself to the police, or to demand to know the grounds on which they were requiring him to do so?

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  • Would the downvoter like to explain their wish to suppress my question?
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 19 at 20:22
  • Can you explain what you mean by "guaranteed right of freedom of expression?" The UK has no such thing and people here are frequently arrested for holding signs. Sep 20 at 8:59
  • Human rights act, think it might be article 10.
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 20 at 9:27
  • Someone should tell the government about it. Sep 20 at 13:55
  • Think they're well at work on trying to get it repealed since Brexit though not sure how Boris quitting will effect that
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 20 at 15:03

1 Answer 1

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United Kingdom

It can sometimes feel as if the average person must follow or carry out every police request when stopped in public. However, this is not always true. Some personal information doesn’t need to be given in certain circumstances.

Do you have to tell police your name for ‘stop and account’? If a police officer stops you on the street, they may ask you what your name is, what you’re doing in the area and where you’re going. These are known as ‘stop and account’ and do not mean you are guilty of a crime. You do not have to stop or answer any of these questions, and refusing to do so is not an offence.

There is one circumstance when you must answer if they ask for your details and this is when they have reason to believe you have engaged, or are engaging, in anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is defined as acting in a way that is causing or likely to cause distress to one or more people in another household. To be categorised as anti-social behaviour, the particular behaviour must be persistent.

In this particular instance it is a criminal offence to refuse to give your details. You can be arrested if the police think it’s necessary to do so in order to find out your name and address. You should never give false information. Doing so can be seen as obstructing the police in the course of their duty.

If there is no other reason to suspect you of a crime, refusing to give your details is not enough to arrest you. If they have no reasonable grounds to detain, search or arrest you then you are free to leave.

Do you have to tell police your name if you are being stopped and searched? It’s important to know your rights when being stopped and searched. During a stop and search, a police officer may ask for your name, address, date of birth and what you are up to. You do not have to give these details unless the officer has pointed out an offence they suspect you have committed.

Do you have to tell police your name if you are arrested? If you are arrested, you do not need to give your details to the police, either in public or at the station. This can delay your release; however, the police can only legally hold you for 24 hours unless further time has been authorised by either an officer at least the rank as a superintendent or a Magistrate/Justice of the Peace. After which you must be either charged or released, regardless of them gaining your details.

If you do decide to give your details, you only need to give your name, address and date of birth. But you are only legally obliged to give these details if and when you appear in court.

Source - Higgs Newton Kenyon Solicitors

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  • What would be a most tactful/smooth/most recommended manner of exercising this right to decline a stop and account? Can you think of anything better than a blunt flippantly indignant "none of your business"? I'm glad to say that I no longer have issues in that regard, but I often get questions like "where are you coming from"? Which seems to be a deliberately ambiguous, calibrated fishing attempt to bait me into dialogue that could fit into many forms of interpretation including in line with present activities and travel aim as described in your answer as stop and account but sometimes it's
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 19 at 20:08
  • Also followed by "just cause of your accent". I used to fear these due to past, thankfully now resolved lack of clarity on my own but these seem to be fishing exercises to probe into one's immigration status. I usually try to dodge these to make their job as difficult as possible despite no longer having anything personally to fear about it, out of solidarity with those who do and against the awful and savage hostile environment regime.
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 19 at 20:09
  • Anyway, what is the ostensible central purpose of a stop and account interrogation?
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 19 at 20:11
  • It should be noted however that I have it indeed on good authority that in practice it will very rarely if ever have any negative consequences to give false information to police during encounters in the field while it may well in some circumstances save one from a 24 hour (or occasionally longer) stay in the tank... Of course there is some offence in some statute or other somewhere which is easily fulfilled in feeding false information to police. In practice though my understanding is that it is quite rarely ever pursued and quite rarely ever alters or impacts on the course of
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 19 at 20:18
  • other proceedings other than sometimes to avoid them altogether and so to keep a subject their liberty.
    – Joseph P.
    Sep 19 at 20:18

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