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PACE Code A and Serious Violence Reduction Orders
PACE Code A was updated on 17 January 2023, alongside the introduction of the SVRO pilot scheme, to begin on the same day. The changes to Code A are contained within Annex G which sets out the source of these powers and how they are intended to be implemented.
What are Serious Violence Reduction Orders?
Section 165 of the omnibus Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 provides the prosecution the opportunity to apply for a Serious Violence Reduction Order (SVRO), a civil order, in respect of any offender convicted of any offence involving a blade or offensive weapon. The offender will not have to be the person in possession of the blade or offensive weapon. It will be enough that another person involved in the commission of the offence should have had such a weapon.
An SVRO may endure for a period of 2 years (or longer if application is made to renew it). The prosecution may apply to have the SVRO begin at the end of any period of custody imposed. Typically, the SVRO will require the offender to notify to police his or her name or names and the address at which he or she lives. During the period of the SVRO the offender will be required to update such information if and when it changes. A homeless person will be required to provide “the address or location of a place where the offender can regularly be found and, if there is more than one such place, such one of those places as the offender may select”.
Breach of the SVRO will be punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. The SVRO may be breached by a person lying to a police officer that he or she is not subject to an SVRO or by otherwise obstructing a constable who is searching a person subject to an SRVO.
Officers will have new powers to search and detain any person subject to an SRVO and to use reasonable force if necessary to that purpose. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of these new powers is that reasonable suspicion will not be required to stop and search a person subject to an SVRO.
Key Amendments to Code A of PACE
The SVRO pilot scheme runs from 17 January 2023 to 17 July 2025 (Annex G para 2). The government is introducing pilots in four areas: those policed by Merseyside, West Midlands, Thames Valley and Sussex police forces (Annex G para 6). However, the Annex G stop and search powers will be enforceable throughout England and Wales (Annex G para 7), seeming to at least partly defeat and by-pass the limits sought to be achieved by the use of pilot schemes. These powers are exercisable by a Constable (Annex G para 7).
Changes to the body of PACE
2.1(f) is inserted to add to the various types of stop and search powers already in existence new search powers under s342E Sentencing Code for those subject to an SVRO.
2.30-2.39 are inserted into to the Code. These outline the powers available in conducting a search for an SVRO. The purpose of a search must be to ascertain whether an individual is carrying a blade or offensive weapon, and must be conducted in a public place (2.31). No provision is made for other items found in the course of a search – police may seize and retain blades and offensive weapons found (2.38), though see 4.3(d) below regarding the record of such a search.
Whilst the police will have powers to search a person without the need for reasonable suspicion, a search must not be based on personal prejudice (2.32). This appears to be at odds with the provision that it is anticipated individuals subject to SVROs will already be known to the police, and that where officers are unsure, they should check the identity of the individual and that they are subject to an SVRO (2.33). The power cannot be exercised unless officers are able to confirm that an individual is subject to an SVRO (2.34).
There is no limit to the exercise of the search, though searches must have an objective and rational basis. The Code notes that officers should use their judgement when deciding in what circumstances and how many times an individual subject to an SVRO is searched (2.35).
3.3, referring to the conduct of searches is edited, so that in searches in relation to an SVRO officers may make any reasonable search to look for bladed articles and offensive weapons.
This is the same requirement as searches at 2.1 (b) and (d), for non-suspicion based searches in relation to section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (reasonable belief of serious violence) and Schedule 5 Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) Act 2011. Compared to the potential violence those Acts are predicated on, the risk associated with individuals subject to a civil order of someone who may not have possessed a blade seems particularly onerous.
4.3(d) provides that a record of any search under section 342E of the Sentencing Code must detail whether an SVRO is in force, and whether anything was found or seized.
Annex A is edited simply to note that a power has been added under section 342E of the Sentencing Code, as detailed above.
Practitioners will want to carefully consider the new provisions and their practical application as they are used. These new powers by-pass the existing requirement for reasonable suspicion before a person may be stopped and searched. In particular, the government recognises that searches based on an SVRO must not be based on prejudice, but practically, it is difficult to foresee a situation in which a person subject to an SVRO could successfully demonstrate any such prejudice. And further, it remains to be seen how an officer without either (i) first-hand knowledge that a person is subject to an SVRO or (ii) the reasonable suspicion necessary for an ordinary stop and search could establish that a person is subject to an SRVO in the first place.