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Can a security guard physically detain or touch you?

Can a security guard physically detain or touch you?
Can a security guard physically detain or touch you?

Security guards are licensed to carry out a number of duties such as inspecting and patrolling premises regularly, monitoring entrances and securing exits and entry points and preventing crime. However, it’s inevitable that a security guard may have to get physical in the event of a security breach – but can security guards physically touch those who trespass or break the law? 

The short answer is yes, a security guard in the UK can use physical force and they’re within their rights to do so – however, only if specific conditions are met in accordance with the law. The main three reasons for physical touch include:

  • Conducting a lawful search with your consent or under legal authority.
  • Preventing harm or ensuring safety in situations where there is an immediate threat or risk.
  • Detaining or restraining you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime, until the arrival of the police.

When can a security guard use physical contact?

Physical contact by a security guard should, of course, be carried out with utmost caution and within the bounds of reasonableness. To that end, there are a number of rules that govern the level of force that security guards in the UK can reasonably exert:

  1. Proportionality: The physical contact should match or be proportionate/appropriate for the individual situation. Security guards should use the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve a specific outcome.
  2. Reasonableness: Contact should be reasonable and justifiable in the context of maintaining security, preventing harm, or enforcing rules. Unnecessary or excessive force is generally not permitted
  3. Lawful authority: Contact may be allowed if the security guard has lawful authority, such as conducting a search with your consent or under specific legal provisions.
  4. Professional conduct: Security guards should maintain a professional demeanour and treat individuals with respect and dignity. Unlawful or inappropriate contact, such as harassment or assault, is not permissible.

In what circumstances can a security guard use force?

Security guards are deployed for a number of reasons and settings – preventing shoplifting, close protection or manned guarding to protect premise entrances. Each of these applications may require physical force but only in the following cases:

  • Self-Defence: Security guards can use reasonable force to defend themselves from physical harm or violence. This includes protecting themselves from an immediate threat or attack.
  • Defence of Others: If a security guard witnesses someone else facing imminent physical harm, they may use reasonable force to protect that individual from harm.
  • Preventing a Crime: Security guards may use force to prevent the commission of a crime if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the crime is about to occur or is in progress. The force used should be necessary and proportionate to prevent the crime.
  • Detention or Restraint: If a security guard has reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual has committed a crime, they may use force to detain or restrain that person until the arrival of the police. The force used should be no more than necessary to safely detain the individual. For example, in a retail setting, a security guard may physically detail a person for shoplifting.

The laws for security guards when using physical force

Of course, the conduct of a security guard is very much governed by laws in the UK as well as various independent bodies. The UK laws governing the conduct of security guards and their use of physical contact include:

  • The Criminal Law Act 1967: This is perhaps the most important law concerning the conduct of a security officer. It provides security guards with the right to use reasonable force in self-defence or in the defence of others. A guard can reference this law to justify their use of physical contact if they are acting in a lawful and proportionate manner.
  • The Security Industry Authority (SIA) Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS): The ACS sets out standards and requirements for security companies and their personnel. It emphasises the need for professionalism, appropriate training, and compliance with the law.
  • Common Law: Common law principles, such as the doctrine of necessity and the concept of reasonable force, may be applicable to security guard conduct. These principles help determine the legality and proportionality of physical contact in specific situations.
  • Human Rights Act 1998: The Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and protects fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to be free from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This law places limits on the use of force and physical contact by security guards.

Whilst these laws provide a general framework, the interpretation and application of the law can vary based on specific circumstances, court decisions, and individual cases.

Do security guards have any legal power?

Security guards do not have the same legal powers as the police, and they must abide by the law while carrying out their duties. They have no more power than any member of the general public – however, they’ve been employed to protect a business from any illegal activity and thus security guards do have certain limited powers and responsibilities within the scope of their role in which they may use physical force.

These powers typically include:

  • Protecting property: Security guards have the authority to protect the property they are assigned to, including preventing unauthorised access, detaining individuals suspected of theft or damage, and conducting searches within legal limits.
  • Ejecting individuals from premises: If someone is causing a disturbance or behaving unlawfully on the premises they are responsible for, security guards can ask them to leave and may use reasonable force to remove them if necessary.
  • Conducting searches: Security guards may conduct searches of individuals and their belongings within the premises they are responsible for, but only within the guidelines of the law and with the person’s consent or legal authority.Security guards must have a valid reason to search you and they must follow the legal guidelines outlined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). These guidelines include obtaining your consent for the search, explaining the reason for the search, and conducting it in a respectful manner. Security guards do not have the same search powers as the police, and their authority is limited to the premises they are responsible for.

We understand that security guards must carry out their duties within the boundaries of the law and adhere to regulations and guidelines set by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and other relevant bodies. They should act professionally, respect individuals’ rights, and not exceed their lawful authority. This is why our security guards for hire are highly trained and SIA-licenced to deliver the full range of guarding roles and use physical force within the confines of the law.

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