Stop and search powers under review as European Court reject UK appeal

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the United Kingdom’s application to appeal its decision in a recent finding that stop and search powers enacted as part of anti-terrorism legislation breached human rights law.

In January 2010 the European Court held that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (the broad police power to stop and search without suspicion) violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights (Gillan and Quinton v. UK 4158/05 [2010] ECHR 28 (12 January 2010)). The claimants received £500 each by way of compensation.

The European Court has now rejected the UK’s application to appeal to the court’s Grand Chamber, meaning that the decision is final. This leaves stop and search powers in further disarray. The Home Secretary has already announced an “urgent review” of the powers after the recent admission by the Home Office that thousands of individual searches had been conducted illegally (see our recent post).

The Home Secretary reiterated a promise made in the Coalition agreement to conduct a “robust review” of counter-terrorism legislation. Liberty, the human rights organisation, have renewed calls for urgent reform, following their long-standing campaign.

The Government may choose to ignore the decision and argue that the stop and search powers fall within its margin of appreciation for deciding which anti-terrorist laws are best to protect the public. Although decisions of the European Court are technically binding, states sometimes choose to disregard them, as demonstrated by the repeated decisions on prisoner voting have been ignored for five years by the UK.

However, the government will be well aware that European Court has recently grown sharper teeth for dealing with intransigent states, and ignoring this judgment may leave the UK on the receiving end of the increased powers.

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