Search and arrest of suspected persons

  • John Finch


From time to time thefts occur in most hospitals and similar institutions and a patient or member of staff may be suspected. Sometimes, too, conclusive proof is very hard to come by, especially in respect of a regular course of petty theft as, for example, of comparatively small quantities of foodstuffs. The question then arises as to whether there is any right of search either of the individual or, in the case of a resident, of his or her quarters. Also, there is the question of what justifies the making of a formal charge against a suspected person, and of the circumstances in which anyone who is not a policeman may have the right of arrest in respect of theft or of other offences.


Senior Officer Reasonable Ground Personal Belonging Petty Theft Criminal Evidence 
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  1. 1.
    In the case of a mentally disordered patient liable to detention it may be said that insofar as those in charge of him may do whatever is necessary for his wellbeing or for the safety of others, a search without his consent, e.g. for a knife or for drugs, would clearly be justified. But it is open to some doubt whether, if the patient were volitional, a search for some other purpose (e.g. money or valuables which have been stolen) without his consent would be lawful. The position in the case of an informal patient suffering from a mental disorder is more obscure. It is questionable whether, if volitional, he should be searched, even for drugs or weapons, against his will.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Annual Report of the Medical Defence Union for 1972 at p. 50.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Clerk and Lindsell Torts (16th edn, 1989) pp. 972-975; also Salmond & Heuston, Law of Torts (20th edn, 1992) pp. 128-131.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Those treating a patient in hospital may sometimes have the strong suspicion that he has a supply of and is using dangerous drugs. Such suspicion does not in law justify any member of the hospital staff searching possible hiding places such as wallets, purses and handbags. The hospital may, however, be in a position to exercise some control over what a patient may keep with him in the ward and could possibly find a reason for having a suspect container removed from the ward for safe custody. Also, as ordinarily a hospital has power to exclude visitors, it could on occasion consider use of that power to exclude visitors who might be possible sources of drugs, giving no more than a conventional reason to anyone excluded. As to giving information to the police see Chapter 16.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See section 24(1)-(3).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lord Devlin in Shaaban Bin Hussein v Chong Fook Kam [1969] 3 All ER 1626.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Hargreves A Practitioner’s Guide to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (1985), Legal Action Group, p. 69.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    [1952] AC 676.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Finch
    • 1
  1. 1.Leicester UniversityUK

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