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Respecting the Law

One of the most important responsibilities of all residents in the UK is to know and obey the law. This section will tell you about the legal system in the UK and some of the laws that may affect you. Britain is proud of being a welcoming country, but all residents, regardless of their background, are expected to comply with the law and to understand that some things which may be allowed in other legal systems are not acceptable in the UK. Those who do not respect the law should not expect to be allowed to become permanent residents of the UK.
The law is relevant to all areas of life in the UK. You should make sure that you are aware of the laws which affect your everyday life, including both your personal and business affairs.

The law in the UK

Every person in the UK is treated equally under the law. This means that the law applies to everyone in the same way, regardless of their identity or origin.

Laws in the UK can be categorized into criminal law and civil law

  • Criminal law relates to crimes, which are usually investigated by the police or another authority such as a council, and which are punished by the courts.
  • Civil law is used to settle disputes between individuals or groups.

Examples of criminal laws are

  • Carrying a weapon: it is a criminal offence to carry a weapon of any kind, even if it is for self-defence. This includes a gun, a knife or anything that is made or adapted to cause injury.
  • Drugs: selling or buying drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis is illegal in the UK.
  • Racial crime: it is a criminal offence to cause harassment, alarm or distress to someone because of their religion or ethnic origin.
  • Selling tobacco: it is illegal to sell tobacco products (for example, cigarettes, cigars, roll-up tobacco) to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Smoking in public places: it is against the law to smoke tobacco products in nearly every enclosed public place in the UK. There are signs displayed to tell you where you cannot smoke.
  • Buying alcohol: it is a criminal offence to sell alcohol to anyone who is under 18 or to buy alcohol for people who are under the age of 18. (There is one exception: people aged 16 or over can drink alcohol with a meal in a hotel or restaurant).
  • Drinking in public: some places have alcohol-free zones where you cannot drink in public. The police can also confiscate alcohol or move young people on from public places. You can be fined or arrested.

This list does not include all crimes. There are many that apply in most countries, such as murder, theft and assault. You can find out more about types of crime in the UK at

Examples of civil laws are

  • Housing law: this includes disputes between landlords and tenants over issues such as repairs and eviction.
  • Consumer rights: an example of this is a dispute about faulty goods or services.
  • Employment law: these cases include disputes over wages and cases of unfair dismissal or discrimination in the workplace.
  • Debt: people might be taken to court if they owe money to someone.

The police and their duties

The job of the police in the UK is to:

  • Protect life and property
  • Prevent disturbances (also known as keeping the peace)
  • Prevent and detect crime.
The police are organised into a number of separate police forces headed by Chief Constables. They are independent of the government.
In November 2012, the public elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales. These are directly elected individuals who are responsible for the delivery of an efficient and effective police force that reflects the needs of their local communities. PCCs set local police priorities and the local policing budget. They also appoint the local Chief Constable.
The police force is a public service that helps and protects everyone, no matter what their background or where they live. Police officers must themselves obey the law. They must not misuse their authority, make a false statement, be rude or abusive, or commit racial discrimination. If police officers corrupt or misuse their authority they are severely punished.
Police officers are supported by the police community support officers (PCSOs). PCSOs have different roles according to the area but usually patrol the streets, work with the public, and support police officers at crime scenes and major events.
All people in the UK are expected to help the police prevent and detect crimes whenever they can. If you are arrested and taken to a police station, a police officer will tell you the reason for your arrest and you will be able to seek legal advice.
If something goes wrong, the police complaints system tries to put it right. Anyone can make a complaint about the police by going to a police station and writing to the Chief Constable of the police force involved. Complaints can also be made to an independent body in England and Wales ( In Scotland, if you are unhappy with the way your complaint has been handled, you can contact the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner at In Northern Ireland, you should contact the Police Ombudsman’s Office (

Terrorism and extremism

The UK faces various terrorist threats, with the most serious coming from Al Qa’ida, its affiliates, and similar organizations. There are also other forms of terrorism, such as Northern Ireland-related terrorism.
All terrorist groups attempt to radicalize and recruit individuals to their cause, although the methods and extent of their efforts may differ. It is important for individuals who wish to live in the UK to be aware of this threat. Ensuring the safety of all citizens is crucial, which includes protection against all forms of extremism. This encompasses opposition, whether expressed vocally or through actions, to fundamental British values, including religious extremism and far-right extremism.
If you suspect that someone is trying to persuade you to join an extremist or terrorist cause, it is important to notify your local police force.

Make Sure You Understand

  • The difference between civil and criminal law and some examples of each
  • The duties of the police
  • The possible terrorist threats facing the UK