Stop and search revisited

Stop and search revisited

Last week Home Secretary Theresa May made a statement to the House of Commons on the powers of the police to stop and search members of the public.

She told members: “Official statistics show that more than 1 million stop-and-search incidents are recorded every year. But on average only about 9% of those incidents result in an arrest, and that figure prompts me to question whether stop and search is always used appropriately.” She added: “If someone is from a black or minority ethnic background, they are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if they are white.”

She said: “It would be wrong to consult Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and work with the police without also consulting the public. So I can tell the House that today I am launching a consultation, lasting six weeks, that will give members of the public the chance to have their say about the future use of stop and search.” Specific proposals in response to the public consultation would be published by the end of the year.

All this produced an overpowering sense of déjà vu. Use of Upper Case’s excellent search facility showed that in June 2009 the annual report by Lord Carlile, then the government official anti-terror law watchdog, dealt with the use of s.44 Terrorism Act 2000, which grants police the power to stop and search anyone in a designated area without suspicion that an offence has occurred. He found that examples of poor or unnecessary use of the section abound.

In January 2010 came the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that police stop and search powers under anti-terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom are too wide and not adequately safeguarded by the law against abuse. This led Theresa May to tell Parliament in July 2010 that the government will change how stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act are used, with immediate effect.

HMIC’s report on stop and search, published on Tuesday, was commissioned by Theresa May in response to renewed concern about the way the police use stop and search powers in the wake of the 2011 August riots. Its findings come as no surprise, and the report was preempted by the consultation exercise. Black people are still seven times more likely to be searched on the street than white people. 27% of the 8,783 stop-and-search records examined by HMIC did not include sufficient grounds to justify the lawful use of the powers. Most (30) of the 43 forces in England and Wales do not understand how to use stop and search powers effectively nor the impact their use has on the communities being policed. Fewer than half the forces complied with a requirement for stop and search activities to be open to public scrutiny. Misuse of stop and search powers risks undermining the police.

Contrasting views on stop and search were demonstrated by two police officers on ‘World at One’ last week. One proudly claimed over a thousand stop and searches to keep his patch clean, and denied any adverse effects on those stopped. The second, coloured, officer had been stopped and searched 34 times when off duty, and was eloquent about the traumatic effect of such searches.

The full text of the HMIC report can be found at: stop-and-search-powers-20130709

The Home Office consultation document is at: www.homeofficesurveys.homeoffice.gov.uk

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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