At Bath railway station last weekend, passengers on arrival were instructed to walk through a 7ft body scanner.
It wasn't widely reported. I spotted it on about page 12 of a newspaper: a little colour story. It might have squeaked
in for a lighthearted couple of minutes on the TV news. Quite odd for such a huge, significant and sinister change to our national culture. I'd have put it on the front page.
Since when did we surprise the public with electronic
body searches, randomly as they go about their daily lives, without any reason to suspect them of anything? Have search warrants also been abandoned while I wasn't looking? May the police now turn up on a whim and rootle around in our drawers?
Police are to be stripped of the power to stop and search anyone for no reason, the Home Secretary has announced.
Theresa May told the Commons she will immediately limit Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 so members of public can only be
stopped if officers reasonably suspect they are terrorists. The threshold of suspicion will bring the Act into line with traditional stop and search powers.
The move follows defeat for the UK government in January at the European Court of
Human Rights. The court found that Section 44 violated the right to respect for private life; article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights.
May said: The Government cannot appeal this judgment although we would not have done so had
we been able. I can therefore tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of Section 44 in contravention of the European Court's ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of our civil liberties.
Police use of Section 44 to stop
individuals will no longer be allowed, although it will still apply to vehicles.
The legal challenge against Section 44 was brought by Liberty, the human rights charity, following the stop and search of a peace protestor and a journalist who were
planning to attend a demonstration against a large arms fair in London in 2003.
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti hailed the withdrawal of the power today. It is a blanket and secretive power that has been used against school kids,
journalists, peace protesters and a disproportionate number of young black men, she said: To our knowledge, it has never helped catch a single terrorist. This is a very important day for personal privacy, protest rights and race equality in
A Big Brother stop and search power which has been used by police to harass hundreds of thousands of innocent people will remain in force despite being ruled illegal.
The news that police may continue to search members of the public
without having any reasonable grounds for suspicion provoked fury among civil liberties campaigners.
The power - section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - has been ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.
The Home Office now has
no remaining grounds for appeal. But, despite the crushing Strasbourg defeat, officials say they will not stop the police from using the power for months or even a year or more.
In the meantime, tourists, photographers and other members of the
public will continue to be subjected to the humiliating searches - of which 256,000 were carried out last year, without catching a single terrorist.
Isabella Sankey, policy director for the campaign group Liberty, said: The objectionable policy
of broad stop and search without suspicion was wrong in principle and divisive and counterproductive in practice.
The Lib Dems and Tories now say that they want to wait until a review of all Labour's draconian anti-terror laws has been
completed before deciding what to do next. Ministers are given a period of grace by the European court to implement its ruling which, based on previous examples, can last for up to a year, or even longer. Enlarge High-profile victims of terror
The European court of human rights has rejected an attempt by the UK government to appeal a judgment over its stop-and-search powers.
The decision means that a January 2010 court judgement which found section 44 of the Terrorism Act to be illegal
This appeal was always doomed, said Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty: The objectionable policy of broad stop and search without suspicion was wrong in principle and has proven divisive and counterproductive in
The original court judgement in the case of Gillan and Quinton v the United Kingdom found that section 44 violated the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights.
In April 2010
the government requested that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber - a request which has now been denied.
A key weapon of the Government's anti-terror laws was in tatters after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that police stop and search powers were unlawful.
The surprise ruling stunned the Home Office, which swiftly announced that the
Government would seek to appeal against the unanimous ruling by seven judges. Despite the judgment, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said that police would continue to use the powers, which allow them to stop and search people without having to suspect
them of involvement in terrorism.
The Strasbourg court ruled that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 violated individual freedoms guaranteeing the right to private life. The court criticised the arbitrary nature of the power and also the way in
which its use was authorised.
Under Section 44, the Home Secretary can authorise police to make random stop and searches in a designated area for up to 28 days, after which the power is renewable.
The case was brought by Kevin Gillan and
Pennie Quinton, who were stopped by police while on their way to a demonstration outside an arms fair at the ExCeL centre in Docklands, London, in September 2003. Quinton, a journalist from London, was ordered to stop filming despite showing her press
card, while Gillan, who was riding his bicycle, was only allowed to go on his way after 20 minutes. They were awarded £30,400 in costs.
The court said that the power to search an individual's clothing and belongings in public involved an
element of humiliation that was a clear interference with the right to privacy. The judges criticised the way in which the power was authorised, noting that there was no requirement that the power should be considered necessary, only expedient. They were
also concerned that the decision to stop and search someone was based exclusively on the hunch or professional intuition of the police officer .
The independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, said that
the judgment could have serious implications and might require parts of the Terrorism Act 2000 to be rewritten. Lord Carlile has repeatedly said that police forces are making too much use of their power to stop and search under the Act. In his last
report he estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 stops per month were taking place under Section 44 in early 2009 but none of the searches had resulted in a conviction for a terrorism offence. More than a quarter of a million Section 44 stop and
searches took place in Britain in 2008-09, leading to 1,452 arrests.