Apparently in the UK it is an offence to refuse to remove a face covering if asked by police who believe a crime may be committed. What is the threshold for this belief, and how does the crime have to relate to the individual who must take off their face covering?

The example today is the news that masked men appeared in the public gallery of a Belfast court during a murder trial.

Another example, where the request was made to remove the face covering was made and reason was given, is documented by John Oliver (youtube). Here someone is required to remove their face covering and eventually fined £90, though it is not clear what that is for. The audio is somewhat mumbled, for this question assume they say (conversation 6:00):

Public: What is your suspicion?

Police: The fact that he walked past a clearly marked camera and covered his face

In both these cases one could certainly argue there is reason for suspicion, in the english language sense of the word. However, it is not at all clear what specific crime may be committed or by whom. If the sole fact that one chooses not to show ones face in a public place is enough to justify the request to expose one's face, then it is effectively the same as an unqualified right and the police can ask anyone to expose their face.

What is the threshold to allow the police to require you remove a face covering? Can we say how close these examples are to that threshold, and what aspects would be considered? How specific does the link between the crime and the individual have to be? Is there any procedure that must be used before it is a legal requirement to remove a face covering?

The examples take place in Northern Ireland and England, answers for any or all of the home countries would be interesting, as they would for any other jurisdiction.

  • Near the start of the Covid pandemic, there was some US Attorney General or something that made a comment about his entering a bank with a mask that essentially stated that previously he would use such an action to secure a conviction for attempted bank robbery. Oct 26, 2023 at 19:28

2 Answers 2



s54 of the Police Crime and Evidence Act 1984 deals with "Searches and examination to ascertain identity". Short version: it can only be authorised by an Inspector or above and only on people who are detained in a police station.

The court is a different matter: the judge can remove anyone from a court for any reason.

  • Are you saying what is documented in US television (John Oliver) is an illegal examination? That occurs on the street, and required him to show his face.
    – User65535
    Oct 27, 2023 at 5:38
  • 2
    @User65535 yes. Police have been known to overstep their authority
    – Dale M
    Oct 27, 2023 at 8:34

The street example could have been done under section 60AA Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Powers to require removal of disguises.

A uniformed police officer may require a person to remove any item they reasonably believe is being worn to conceal their identity. It's an offence to refuse to comply, punishable by up to one month in prison or a level 3 fine.

This may only be used in an area designated under sections 60 or 60AA(3) by an officer of the rank of inspector or higher.

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