Reader question: My daughter was searched in our local supermarket. Is that legal?
In most cases, no, and the staff probably overstepped the mark.
Ordinary staff in a supermarket or any other shop are not allowed to search you physically and legally speaking, they do not even have the right to ask you to open your bag to inspect its contents.
A security guard employed by the shop (who must be wearing a distinctive uniform and not just a badge, for example) is allowed to visually inspect – but not search – the contents of your handbag if he or she suspects you of theft.
However, you have the right to refuse to comply if they ask to search the bag physically with their hands.
Shop staff or security guards cannot ask to check the content of your pockets or any other bags, other than your handbag, such as luggage, and are not allowed to physically search customers.
One exception to the latter rule is if there is a high-level security alert in your area, as is currently the case nationwide with the plan Vigipirate following the recent terrorist attacks.
Under such circumstances, security guards can be allowed to carry out pat-down searches, but only with consent.
Sometimes, you may notice signs outside supermarkets informing customers that their bags may be checked inside by staff.
This has no legal value and you are entitled to refuse.
However, if a customer is caught stealing, the security guard can detain that person until the police arrive.