The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Unwarranted Search

The right of a Police officer to burst into your house is one that we have always tried to limit in this country, but over time more and more adjustments to the law have resulted in a great extension of police powers. One example (and I am not a lawyer so I shall generalise) was a judgment a few years ago in a case where an intoxicated driver had run indoors before being apprehended. The police broke in, and the final judgment was that the arrest was illegal, but that the subsequent breath test procedure was valid. Not every operational officer is fully up to speed on the latest legal decisions, and in a case a couple of years ago I saw this in action.
Police arrived at a local crossroads to find two damaged cars that had been hit in the rear while waiting to cross, and a third car with frontal damage, but no driver. Witnesses told of a young man running off from the scene. Police identified the keeper as living locally, and went round to his house, where there was no reply to their knocking at the door. They then kicked the door in, to find a young man. To cut a long story short there was a scuffle (resulting in an Assault Police charge) and a man was arrested and taken to the police station.
He pleaded not guilty to assault police, and the nub of his defence was that the officers had no right to enter his flat. The officers gave evidence that they had seen cracks to the windscreen of the damaged car suggesting that someone had hit his head; thus they had entered the flat in order to check whether anyone was injured. The defence pooh-pooed this assertion and said that the officers had cobbled the story together to excuse an unlawful entry. In all the circumstances we felt that the action was reasonable, and from that followed conviction. We then heard that our man had previously pleaded guilty to drunk driving and leaving the scene of the accident.
Later, the clerk put the whole thing in perspective by pointing out that the officers had been unaware of recent changes in the law that would have made a hot-pursuit entry into the house perfectly legal, saving the need for a full-day trial.