in the United Kingdom
|Types of agency|
|Types of agent|
There are a number of agencies that participate in law enforcement in the United Kingdom which can be grouped into three general types:
The majority of law enforcement in the United Kingdom is carried out by territorial police forces that police the general public and their activities. The other types of agencies are concerned with policing of more specific matters.
Over the centuries there has been a wide variation in the number of police forces in the United Kingdom, with a large number now no longer in existence.
Except in Greater London, each territorial police force covers one or more of the local government areas (counties) established in the 1974 local government reorganisations (although with subsequent modifications), in an area known in statute as a police area. These forces provide the majority of policing services to the public of England and Wales. These forces have been known historically as "Home Office police forces" due to the central government department, the Home Office, being responsible for and providing the majority of funding these police forces. Despite the implication of the term, all police forces are independent, with operational control resting solely with the chief officer of each force (the Chief Constable or with regard to the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police forces, their respective Commissioners); each force was overseen by a Police authority until these were replaced by Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012.
The Police Act 1996 is the most recent piece of legislation, which outlines the areas of responsibility for the 43 territorial forces of England and Wales (found in Schedule 1 of the Act).
Constable is the lowest rank in the police service, but all officers, whatever their rank are "constables" in terms of legal powers and jurisdiction. Police officers in territorial police forces in England and Wales derive their jurisdiction from Section 30 of the Police Act 1996. This section outlines that such officers have jurisdiction throughout England and Wales and also the adjacent United Kingdom waters. Special Constables, who are part-time, volunteer officers of these forces, used to have a more limited jurisdiction - limited solely to their own force areas and adjacent forces. Since 1 April 2007, however Special Constables of England & Wales have full police powers throughout those two countries. This means that, in contrast to the majority of countries, all UK volunteer police officers now have exactly the same powers as their full-time colleagues. There are a number of situations in which the jurisdiction of a constable extends to one of the other countries, and constables of one jurisdiction do have reciprocal powers of arrest in each others jurisdictions as a matter of course - see the main article for details.
As of March 2010 police numbers in England and Wales were:
As of March 2010 police numbers in England:
As of March 2010 police numbers in Wales were:
Most police powers and functions have been inherited by the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament from the Scottish Office. Areas for which legislative responsibility remains with the UK Government include national security, terrorism, firearms and drugs. The Police (Scotland) Act 1967, as amended, was the basis for the organisation and jurisdiction of the eight former territorial forces in Scotland that were formed in 1975. These forces covered one or more of the areas of the local government regions established in the 1975 local government reorganisation (and since abolished), with minor adjustments to align with the post-1996 council area borders. These forces provided the majority of police services to the public of Scotland, although Scottish police officers also have limited jurisdiction throughout the rest of the United Kingdom as required (See above comments under English and Welsh forces).
In 2011, the Scottish Government announced that it planned to amalgamate the eight territorial forces in Scotland, along with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, into a single agency. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, an Act of the Scottish Parliament, codified this amalgamation and brought about the new Police Service of Scotland (to be known as "Police Scotland"). The new force was established on 1 April 2013.
In 2017, plans were being debated in the Scottish Parliament to merge railway policing with Police Scotland.
As of December 2012, police numbers in Scotland were:
Community Support Officers, commonly referred to as "Police Community Support Officers", were established by Section 38(2) of the Police Reform Act 2002, which applies only to England and Wales. There are therefore no Community Support Officers in Scotland.
County and borough based police forces were not formed in Ireland as they were in Great Britain, with instead a single Royal Irish Constabulary covering most of Ireland (the exceptions being the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which was responsible for policing in Dublin, and the Belfast Town Police force, which was replaced by the RIC in the 1880s). The Royal Ulster Constabulary was formed in 1922 after the establishment of the Irish Free State, and served until the reforms of the police under the terms established initially by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 undertaken by the Patten Commission, which led to the renaming of the RUC in 2001. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 sets out the basis for the organisation and function of the police force in the province. Until 2010, police powers were not transferred to the devolved Northern Ireland Executive, unlike Scotland, instead remaining with the Northern Ireland Office. However, in January 2010 agreement was reached between the two largest parties in the Assembly, the DUP and Sinn Féin, over a course that would see them assume responsibility for policing and justice from April.
As of April 2007 police numbers in Northern Ireland were:
Police in Northern Ireland do not employ Police Community Support Officers
County police forces traditionally bore the name "constabulary" upon their formation (as a derivation of "constable"). The reorganisation of police forces over the years has seen this name dropped in favour of "police" as a name, as many have decided that the word "constabulary" is confusing for people more used to searching for the word "police". However, a number of police forces in the areas overseen by the United Kingdom retain the name "constabulary":
These bodies operate in more than one county of the United Kingdom. The remit of some of the forces is further limited to the areas that they police, such as railway infrastructure. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 gave the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police a limited, conditional authority to act outside of their primary jurisdiction if the situation requires urgent police action and the local force are not readily available, or if they believe that there is risk to life or limb, or where they are assisting the local force.
Additionally, the following three government agencies are defined in legislation as "special police forces". As these forces are responsible to specific areas of infrastructure, they do not answer to the Home Office, but instead to the government department responsible for the area they police. All three forces do voluntarily submit themselves to HMIC inspection:
These organisations are not police forces but do have similar powers to that of the police with the exception that they cannot arrest a person nor make forcible entry without a warrant.
The use of investigatory powers is controlled by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Up to 792 public authorities have powers that are restricted by RIPA.
These police forces generally come under the control of a local authority, public trusts or even private companies; examples include some ports police and the Mersey Tunnels Police. They could have been established by individual Acts of Parliament or under common law powers. Jurisdiction is generally limited to the relevant area of private property alone and in some cases (e.g. docks and harbours) the surrounding area. This, together with the small size of the police forces, means they are often reliant on the territorial force for the area under whose jurisdiction they fall to assist with any serious matter. The statutory responsibility for law and order sits with the territorial police forces even if there is a specialist police force in the locality. These police forces do not have independent Police Authorities and their founding statutes (if any) do not generally prescribe their structure and formation.
There are two types of port police in the United Kingdom -- most are sworn in under the 1847 Act, but a few have Acts specific to their port.
For every port/harbour, an individual Act of Parliament (or, more recently, a Harbour (Revision) Order) can incorporate parts of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (HDPCA) and apply them to that specific port/harbour. Officers of port police forces are sworn in as "special constables" under section 79 of the 1847 Act, as incorporated by the individual local Act. As a result, officers have the full powers of a constable on any land owned by the harbour, dock, or port and at any place within one mile of any owned land.
The Marine Navigation Act 2013 has potentially enabled ports contables in England & Wales to act as constables beyond this one mile limit, in relation to policing purposes connected with the port only, in a police area where consent has been obtained from the relevant Chief Constable. This act does not however give general police powers to ports constables beyond their core jurisdiction as set out in the 1847 act, merely in relation to policing purposes connected to the port as set out in the Act. As of 2014, 3 ports police forces (Dover, Teesport and Bristol) have sought and received consent from the local Chief Constable, with a fourth (Liverpool) in the process of applying for it. This has enabled these 3 ports forces to act as constables, in relation to policing purposes connected to the port, throughout the police area in which they are geographically located. There are 224 constables sworn in under the 1847 Act. Serious or major incidents or crime generally become the responsibility of the local territorial police force.
These small constabularies are responsible for policing specific land and parks. Officers of these forces have the powers of a constable within their limited jurisdiction. They are not constables as dealt with in the general Police Acts.
Over history, a number of local authorities outside London have maintained their own parks police forces, the most notable being Liverpool (Liverpool Parks Police) and Birmingham (Birmingham Parks Police). No local authority parks police forces currently exist outside London, although the legal powers for them to do so (granted by various local Acts of Parliament) survive in a limited number of cases.
In London, these constabularies are responsible for enforcing byelaws within the parks and open spaces of their respective local authorities. Members of the constabularies are sworn as constables under article 18 of the Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Order 1967. Members of the constabularies are constables only in relation to the enforcement of the parks byelaws (which, by definition, apply only in the parks).
Some of these constables have (or have had) a shared role as security staff for their own local authority's buildings and housing estates with appropriate changes of badges and/or uniform being made when changing to/from park duties.
See Also Cathedral Constables' Website
Cathedrals that have their own Constabularies consisting of attested constables that keep the peace at each Cathedral.
Each branch of the military has its own police service, though the powers of a service police officer are identical and recipricol across all three services. The service police is made up of the:
- including the Royal Marines Police
In the UK, the service police exercise jurisdiction over those serving in the military in any capacity and those civilians subject to service discipline as defined by the Armed Forces Act 2006. They are not 'constables' and do not have any policing powers in relation to the general public in normal circumstances. In British Forces Germany, under the Status Of Forces Act, military police have jurisdiction over British Forces personnel, their families, MOD contractors, and NAAFI staff.
Service Police are PACE trained and all investigations are PACE compliant. They make regular use of civilian police facilities often conducting joint investigations where necessary. The Service Police are able to investigate all crime within their jurisdiction, up to and including Murder, however within the UK, offences of murder and sudden deaths are passed to the local police force as per national jurisdiction agreements.
Whilst operating in conflict zones the military police will conduct the full range of policing including murder investigations as evidenced by the Sgt Blackman investigation.
There are certain instances where police forces of other nations operate in a limited degree in the United Kingdom: