Government suspends 'stop and search' powers<br>

Police officers in the UK will no longer be allowed to use the contentious Section 44 of the Terrorism Act for broad 'stop and search' powers against individuals.

Speaking last week, the Home Secretary unveiled interim measures to the House of Commons to "not allow the continued use of Section 44... in contravention of our civil liberties."

Theresa May's statement was a response to a final decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that using the section against two photographers breached their right to a private life.

Seeming to confirm what photographers' have long suspected, the court found that powers under S.44 were drawn too broadly, when used on the street, and have insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.

The case arose from an arms fair in East London in 2003, when journalists and protestors were effectively prevented from joining a demonstration because of a lengthy stop and search.

In the light of the European Court's judgement, the Commons were told that the coalition government would introduce new interim measures that bring section 44 "fully in line" with the ruling.

"We have always been clear in our concerns about these powers, and they will be included as part of our review of counter-terrorism legislation," the Home Secretary said.

"I can, therefore, tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of section 44 in contravention of the European Court's ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of our civil liberties."

She explained that police officers would no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers; but would instead have to rely on section 43 powers, which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist.

A change to the authorisation test of the use of S44 powers will also be made, from requiring a search to be 'expedient' for the prevention of terrorism, to the "stricter" test of it being 'necessary'.

Moreover, the police will only be able to use section 44 in relation to searches of vehicles, the minister said of the measures, which are due to last until the government's review of counter-terrorism laws reports.

MPs in the Commons were told: "The first duty of government is to protect the public. But that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties.

"I believe that the interim proposals I have set out today give the police the support they need and protect those ancient rights."

Civil liberties campaigners seemed to back the Home Secretary: "Liberty welcomes the end of the infamous S.44 stop and search power that criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected," said group director Shami Chakrabarti.

The I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist! group also welcomed the suspension, saying the announcement should spell "the end" of the "hostile environment" created by Section 44.

"Unfortunately there are still a swathe of laws that police can and will still use to harass photographers", the group warned.

"Most notably Section 43, which is similar to Section 44 but requires an officer to suspect that you are a terrorist and Section 76 which makes it illegal to ‘elicit information about a police officer’ which includes photographing them."

Editorial image: Photograph by Marc Vallée with illustration by Jonathan Warren

 

12th July 2010

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