The Fourth Amendment says police need a warrant to enter an American home. Details describe exactly what sort of probable cause lets an officer enter your house without a warrant—they can enter if they actually witness a crime, for instance, or if they think someone in your home is minutes from dying—but the rules say that if the cop merely suspects criminal activity, that’s not enough justification for them to barge in.

That isn’t a universal idea. In England, a millennium or more of laws have left over a thousand individual reasons that police can enter people’s homes without permission or a warrant. 

One weirdly specific such reason comes from the 1980 Bees Act. The act prohibits Brits from importing sick bees. It authorizes officers to kill such infectious foreign bees on the spot, without the beekeeper being allowed any compensation. And it specifically grants officers power of entry into people’s homes to enforce these laws—meaning, they do not need a warrant; sick bees are such a serious and urgent matter that we cannot spare time for such frivolities. You might argue that if the bees have made it from the port of entry to someone’s home, the moment of urgency has passed, but the Bees Act would disagree with you.

Another comes from the 1952 Hypnotism Act. No one is allowed to hypnotize without a license, says the act (unless they are in Scotland). You may not hypnotize anyone under the age of 21, whether or not you have a license. To enforce this law, naturally, “any police constable” may enter any premises where he suspects such illicit activity is being performed in the name of entertainment. 

Not all these 1,208 powers of entry on the books are ever used. We imagine not too many constables are busy enforcing the 1950 Distribution of German Enemy Property (No. 2) Order. Still, we should think about these powers, according to the British peer who brought them to public attention, Malcolm Mitchell-Thomson, 3rd Baron Selsdon. Lord Sheldon was one of the longest-serving people in the House of Lords. He’s still alive, but in 2021, they removed him from the House because he’d stopped showing up. “I’m not quite sure why I am here,” he said, a few months before his removal.  

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Top image: Louise Docker

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