Human Rights Watch slams stop and search
6 July 2010
Human Rights Watch has released a comprehensive report into the Government’s controversial anti-terrorism stop and search powers.
The report – Without Suspicion Stop and Search under the Terrorism Act 2000 – runs to 64 pages and seeks to systematically dismantle the case for area-based stop and search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows the police to stop and search without suspicion. Responding to proposals to cut the scope of the scheme, the reports states:
… we believe that even if the law were improved—if its geographic scope were permanently narrowed or its use restricted to specialist officers—the reforms would not entirely address the risk of arbitrary use, including profiling of ethnic minorities or stops of children. It is impossible to give clear guidance to officers on the use of a power that requires no reasonable suspicion. The risk of arbitrary use also makes the power incompatible with the traditional discretion given to UK police officers in course of their duties. The use of section 44 compromises the UK’s human rights obligations and is counterproductive.
The Home Office has been under significant pressure recently to repeal the powers.
The European Court of Human Rights recently held that the powers violate the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights (Gillan and Quinton v. UK 4158/05  ECHR 28 (12 January 2010)), and have refused the UK’s application to appeal.
The Home Secretary has already announced an “urgent review” of the powers after a recent admission that thousands of individual searches had been conducted illegally (see our recent post). This pressure may ultimately lead to a change in policy, but campaigners probably shouldn’t hold their breath for a full repeal of the powers.