One might be forgiven for wondering what on earth GOWISELY means. For those who do know, my apologies for what will undoubtedly become a rather repetitive read. For those who do not, hopefully I can enlighten you with this brief, yet informative guide to your rights when it comes to police powers.

Many of us will have watched TV shows or films in which someone, usually the villain, is arrested for some sort of wrongdoing. Sadly, real life is not half as exciting, but there are certain things an officer of the law must say or do upon arresting or searching an individual and this is where the acronym GOWISELY comes into play.

This handy little acronym serves as a reminder to a police officer of the information he or she must provide a citizen when they perform a stop and search, whether it is in a shopping centre or on the street or even in your own home. Here’s what it stands for:

G: Grounds for the search
O: Object the officer is searching for
W: Warrant, particularly if the officer is in plain clothes
I: Identification, proof that the officer is indeed a police officer!
S: Station to which the officer is attached to
E: Entitlement, any citizen being searched by a police officer is entitled to copies of all paperwork
L: Legislation, the legal power which gives the officer the right to stop and search
Y: YOU are being detained for the search or for the purpose of…essentially informing the citizen in no uncertain terms the purpose and nature of the search

You might ask yourself, why is this so important? Well, firstly, it ensures that no citizen is being unlawfully or unnecessarily searched by an officer. Stop and searches can be quite a terrifying experience, particularly if one is entirely innocent, so GOWISELY acts as a reminder to both citizens and officers of the need for accountability and explanation. Secondly, if an officer fails to provide this information, such a failure can often become important in later proceedings, for example, to throw doubt over the evidence of a police officer when giving that evidence in court.

Finally, an officer can only stop and search you if they either have a search warrant or have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something which could be used to commit a crime.

Now let us consider the grounds on which a police officer can actually arrest you. One can obviously be arrested if the police have a valid, signed warrant of arrest. In addition, if you’re in the middle of doing something illegal or if the police have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re going to commit a crime or have already done so, then the arrest will also be viable. Essentially, don’t do or attempt to do anything illegal and the police will have no excuse to arrest you. Simple, right?

Now, for the really important part: an arrest is unlawful unless you are told that you are under arrest and the grounds for the arrest at the time. An unlawful arrest can have dire consequences, for example, evidence that might have been obtained as a result of the unlawful arrest could be excluded if the case ends up in a courtroom. Good for the defendant, bad for the prosecution.

After any arrest, the police officer must then escort you to a police station as soon as practicably possible. Equally, remember the number 24. You can only be detained in a police station for 24 hours, unless the police seek an extension on this time, but this is usually saved for particularly complex or serious cases.

Some of you may be familiar with the police caution, which is basically the words an officer must say to you before embarking on questioning. Again, TV shows and films love to use this in their scripts to bring a little drama for the viewers. So I’ll do the same and hopefully stir up a little drama for my readers: ‘You do not have to say anything. However, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

Now, a little snippet of advice for all my younger readers out there; if you’re under the age of 17 the police must attempt to contact your parent or guardian upon arrest. They must also appoint an appropriate adult to be present at the police station. I’m sure we all have differing views on who ought to be deemed an appropriate adult, but usually it will be a parent, guardian or social worker. So, if anyone under the age of 17 finds themselves in a predicament with a police officer, it is perfectly normal to, and in fact sensible, to scream ‘I want my mummy!’.

There are so many laws, codes and guidelines that the police must follow in carrying out their powers and I would probably need an entire book to even begin to discuss them all. However, this short guide will hopefully begin to explain some of the things one should look out for if, sadly, they do happen to get into trouble with the law. I’d also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that, whilst this article may be a little on the light-hearted side, these issues are really important. Nobody wants to find themselves on the receiving end of a police caution or in a police station, but if they do, it really is imperative that you know both your rights as a citizen and the limitations to a police officer’s powers. So remember folks: GOWISELY!

BY: Rebecca Turner