Stop and Search

 Ever more checks without justification

14th January

Police Human Rights Abusers Stopped and Searched...

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Stop and Search deemed illegal by European Court

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.


1st July

Update: Still Illegal...

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UK Government appeal against stop and search European Court decision denied

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 is final.

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 practice.

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.


4th July

Update: Police Won't Stop...

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UK police to continue making illegal stop and searches

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 legislation


9th July

Update: Liberty Wins...

UK police told to stop illegal stop and searches

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 Britain.


1st November

Update: Harassing People for What?...

100,000 random police searches fail to find anything terror related

Out of more than 100,000 people stopped and searched by police using supposedly anti-terror powers not one single arrest was made for terrorism-related offences, new figures show.

A total of 101,248 stops and searches were made under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in 2009/10, but only one in every 200 led to an arrest and none of these were terror-related, the figures released by the Home Office showed.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, ordered a review of the controversial stop and search powers earlier this year, saying she wanted to correct mistakes made by the Labour government which, she said, was allowed to ride roughshod over civil liberties.

The powers allow officers to stop anyone in a specified but widely cast area without the need for reasonable suspicion.

Across Great Britain, 506 arrests were made after people were stopped and searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act, 0.5% of the 101,248 stops and searches, compared with 10 per cent of stops carried out using non-terror powers.

But the use of the stop and search powers fell by 60% compared with 2008/09, the figures showed.

The review of the Government's counter-terrorism policy, which will report shortly, is being carried out by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Ken Macdonald, who led changes in the way terrorists are prosecuted.

Of all the stops and searches, four out of five of these were made in the Metropolitan Police area, with almost a fifth being made by British Transport Police.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: These Home Office statistics highlight what a crude and blunt instrument stop and search without suspicion has been. It costs us dearly in race equality and consent-based policing with very little return in terms of enhanced security.

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, which campaigns against intrusions on privacy, added: This is no surprise. Rather than a genuine counter-terrorism tool, random stop and search has been a way of bullying and hassling our increasingly abject population. We have to decide what kind of society we want to live in. Random stop and search allows the state to confront the individual in the street, without cause, and demand your papers. It's wrong.


6th October

Offsite: Invasion of the Body Scanners...

Mobile body scanner used to search passengers arriving at Bath railway station

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?

...Read the full article


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