The police often use dogs trained to find drugs in public places, including tube stations and festivals, in order to identify someone who is in possession of drugs. However, the dogs are not 100 per cent reliable. They may signal that someone is carrying drugs when they are not, or they might fail to identify someone who does have drugs on them.
The UK does not have any laws or regulations on the police use of sniffer dogs. There is only guidance on their use, which says that people cannot be forced to walk past the dogs, and that the dogs must walk through a crowd and then indicate people. However, every day across the country people are funnelled past sniffer dogs as they come off escalators at rail stations in clear breach of the guidance because it cannot be enforced.
The police do not have a general power to require you to submit to a dog sniff. However, police will treat attempts to avoid a police dog as reasonable grounds for a search. Release believes this practice is unlawful, but if the police do try to use your attempt to avoid the dog as a ground for searching you, you should not resist the search. You risk both physical injury and serious criminal charges if you physically resist a search. If it is an unlawful search, you should take action afterwards by using the law. Make sure you get a copy of the search record stating that this was the reason you were stopped and searched and seek legal advice.
If you are sniffed and indicated by a dog (or the police interpret the dog’s behaviour as an indication) this does not mean that you have done anything wrong. Many people are indicated by dogs and found not to be in possession of drugs. However, you may be asked to provide possible reasons as to why the dog has indicated you, but you do not have to. Anything you do say may count towards the grounds for searching you or investigating others. A record will be made of anything you do say. Police practice is to treat dog indications as reasonable grounds for a search. This practice is yet to be challenged in a UK court.
You should not resist the search - if you want to challenge anything the police have done, this can be done after the encounter.
If you are searched and no drugs are found on you, you will be free to go. If you are searched and drugs are found on you, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. You can also get legal advice on the possibility of bringing a civil action against the police after the search has taken place.
If you are interested in learning more about sniffer dogs read the Release blog or check out our stop and search advice to find out more about your rights.