Section 44 stop and search ruled illegal

February 11, 2010 — News

Written by Adam Elliott-Cooper

A recent landmark ruling at the European Court of Human Rights found that stop-and-search powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 were illegal.

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Last month, Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton won their case at the European Court, after the judges ruled in their favour, concluding that the stop-and-search powers[1] violated the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, the court found that the grounds on which the police may stop and search an individual do not require reasonable suspicion, leading to the practice becoming arbitrary, rather than legitimately targeted. Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) was one of many human rights and equalities groups which welcomed the European Court’s ruling, adding ‘Parliament¬†should act urgently to clear up this mess by repealing section 44.¬†It needs to respect both the letter and the spirit of the Strasbourg ruling’.

The increased powers given to police by the Terrorism Act 2000 have received huge criticism from politicians, lawyers and members of affected communities. In 2008, stop and searches increased by over 300 per cent for African Caribbean males and over 200 per cent for Asian males. Half of all section 60 stops[2] in London were of Black males. Doreen Lawrence has commented on the laws as ‘reminiscent of the SUS Laws used to suppress black people during the 1980s’.

Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton were stopped and searched by police in September 2003 for materials that could be used to commit acts of terrorism. The couple were on their way to demonstrate against the sale of weapons, tanks and missiles at an arms fair at London’s Excel Centre. The misuse of stop and search has been of concern to peaceful demonstrators for some time, particularly after a set of twins aged 11 were stopped and searched at a protest against Kingsnorth Power Station. Stickers, environmental badges, crayons, highlighter pens and a clown’s wig were all confiscated by officers, according to the twins’ mother.

The government has continued to support the stop-and-search powers of police, stating: ‘Stop and search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is an important tool in a package of measures in the on-going fight against terrorism.’

The Home Secretary also commented after the judgment: ‘I am disappointed with the ECtHR ruling in this case as we won on these challenges in the UK courts, including in the House of Lords. We are considering the judgment and will seek to appeal. Pending the outcome of this appeal, the police will continue to have these powers available to them’.

Related links

Download a copy of the judgment here

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities – CAMPACC

Scotland Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

[1] Powers under sections 44-47 Terrorism Act 2000 which allow the police to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. [2] s60 Criminal Justice Public Order Act 1994 gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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