Rules on stop and search changed

Rules on stop and search changed

Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament yesterday that the government will change how stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act are used, with immediate effect.

The move is in response to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights,  which found that the use of stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000  amounted to a  violation of the right to a private life. The court said the powers were drawn too broadly at the time of their initial authorisation and did not have enough safeguards to protect civil liberties. The Home Secretary told the House of Commons: “I will not allow the continued use of section 44 in contravention of the European Court’s ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of the civil liberties of every one of us.” She added that the new government had been concerned about the use of section 44 powers for some time. The changes are designed to comply with the Strasbourg ruling and provide clarity for the police before a review of all counterterrorism legislation this summer. The terms of reference for the review are expected to be announced next week.

The Home Secretary has sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces, and interim guidance for the police has been introduced which sets a new suspicion threshold. Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers. Instead they will have to rely on section 43 powers, which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist. Police may search only vehicles under section 44 of the law, and then only if they have reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity. The changes will bring the operation of counter-terrorism use of stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgment. Theresa May concluded: “The first duty of government is to protect the public. But that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties. I believe that the interim proposals I have set out today give the police the support they need and protect those ancient rights.”

In reply, Alan Johnson, the former Labour Home Secretary, said he was ‘amazed’ that his successor had not tried to appeal against the Strasbourg ruling. He went on to say: “I am deeply concerned about the Home Secretary’s intention to restrict section 44 powers to searches of vehicles. That quite clearly restricts the powers of the police.” But Lord Carlile, the government’s independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation, speaking on BBC’s ‘World at One’ yesterday, said section 44 had been ineffective in combating terrorism, had caused community tensions and was used arbitrarily and for incorrect purposes. He added: “You don’t have to search people to discourage terrorists, the evident availability of police officers in the area, obvious uniformed policing, is just as much of a deterrent.” And Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “Liberty welcomes the end of the infamous section 44 stop and search power that criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected. We argued against it for ten years and spent the last seven challenging it all the way to the Court of Human Rights. 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. To our knowledge, it has never helped catch a single terrorist. This is a very important day for personal privacy, rights to protest and race equality in Britain.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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