Stop and search used illegally

Stop and search used illegally

The blog posted on 23 June 2009 concerned the annual report by Lord Carlile, the government’s official anti-terror law watchdog, about 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. “I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist” he said. He added that terrorism related powers should be used only for terrorism related purposes, otherwise their credibility is severely damaged.

Another blog, posted on 27 January this year, reported 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. The Court concluded that the powers of authorisation and confirmation, as well as those of stop and search under ss. 44 and 45, were neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. They were not, therefore, “in accordance with the law”, in violation of Article 8.

Now comes another embarrassment for the police service with the revelation that tens of thousands of people have been stopped in the street and searched unlawfully, and it could be that they are all entitled to compensation. Fourteen police forces are urgently trying to find the individuals involved after being told by the Home Office that errors had been found in the way 40 separate stop and search operations were authorised since the powers were introduced in 2001. The Home Office said that in most of the cases authorisations were issued for periods beyond the 28-day statutory limit for each operation or were not signed off by ministers within the statutory 48-hour deadline. The Met and City of London police were responsible for 10 of the 40 illegal operations. Thames Valley police were responsible for six, Sussex five and Greater Manchester three.

Nick Herbert, the police minister, said in a written Commons statement on 10 June that the mistake was discovered after a freedom of information request triggered a review of the Metropolitan police’s s. 44 records, which in turn led to a comprehensive review by the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism. He said: “To summarise these errors, on 33 occasions authorisations were specified to be for 29 days, and two occasions when the authorisations were specified to be for 30 days, whereas the statutory maximum period is 28 days. In addition, there was one further case…where ministerial confirmation for the authorisation was not provided within the statutory 48 hour deadline”. Four other cases were mentioned. He concluded: “I am aware that there is considerable concern about the operation of section 44 stop-and-search powers going beyond these authorisation errors. The Government are committed to a wider review of counter-terrorism legislation, including the operation of the section 44 stop-and-search provisions.”

The latest Home Office statistics show that there were 148,798 stop and searches under section 44 in 2009, 40 % fewer than the previous year.  A total of 688 arrests were made as a result of these searches, an arrest rate of 0.5%.

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 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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