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.