Home Secretary on offensive as police admit anti-terror mistakes

11 June 2010 by

The Home Secretary has pledged to conduct an “urgent review” of police stop and search powers as it has been revealed that thousands of searches may have been conducted illegally.

Teresa May, the new Home Secretary, has gone on the offensive with a Guardian editorial blaming the previous Government and promising to fix the problem urgently. She says “It has been clear for a decade that the last government held our civil liberties cheap. They introduced the powers that have been abused 10 years ago, and then sat back as they were used more and more frequently.” She is reportedlyincandescent” over the report.

The police will find it harder to blame the previous Government. A Home Office review has revealed that they have regularly misused powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial powers may have run foul of the Human Rights Act in any event, following the European Court of Human Rights’ January ruling that section 44 violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed Article 8 (right to privacy) European Convention on Human Rights.

The Times reports:

Fourteen police forces have unlawfully stopped and searched thousands of people on the streets under controversial counter terror power. The blunder occurred when police detained people without having permission to do so from a Home Office minister. On other occasions police continued to stop and search people for longer than they had been given authorisation under the law.

The Home Secretary has also 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 which led to the successful European Court ruling earlier this year.

Will claims follow?

The Guardian predicts that thousands of compensation claims may follow, and that the claimants in the European Court received £30,000 each in compensation. This is inaccurate, as in fact £500 compensation was awarded to each claimant, although their costs bill reached tens of thousands. It seems unlikely that thousands of people who were affected will ultimately make the efforts to claim, and the Government will probably stave off such claims by changing the law.

For now, it is easy for the current Government to blame the last for such mistakes, and many will welcome an anti-terrorism law review. However, the true test for this Government will come if threats of terrorism, which are currently low, emerge again during the next five years. This will mark the true test of their commitment to “restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power”.

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