17 January 2011

Concern over police demand for new power to stop and search

Kam Gill's avatar

​It recently came out in an article by the Guardian that the police have asked the government for a new counter-terrorism power to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion. This has raised a concern amongst member of StopWatch.

Emeritus Professor at University of Warwick and member of StopWatch, Lee Bridges argues that a review of the powers under section 60 of Criminal Justice Act 1994 should be held. He states in a letter published by the Guardian dated 5 January 2011:

“In seeking to replace the now unlawful section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the police argue that stop and search powers would be lawful if their use were restricted to specific times, geographical areas or events. This is debatable. Before any move is considered, a review of powers under section 60 of Criminal Justice Act 1994 should be held. Similar to the abuse of section 44 condemned by the European court of human rights, police in some cities have continuously authorised section 60 stop and search in areas of predominantly black and minority ethnic population. Analysis has shown that black people are over 26 times, and Asians three times, more likely to be stopped and searched under these powers than white people. At a minimum, parliament should consider imposing a requirement for national recording and monitoring of section 60 authorisations when it is shortly asked to approve revisions to the codes of practice.”

The Muslim Safety Forum (MSF), has equally expressed its concern over the Guardian findings. In a press release MSF writes; “MSF feels in light of the huge damage Section 44 has done to community-police relations without any apparent successes and the inability of UK police forces to, on their own accord, address this disproportionate use of it, we remain sceptical and concerned about this alleged recall of the power in a different guise by the police.

Shamiul Joarder, MSF’s lead on Counter Terrorism said; “If true then we would find this development a major concern to us. We have contacted the police requesting an urgent meeting to explain this media report.”

He further added, “The MSF has deep concerns over the reduction of police accountability through the proposed changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence

Act (PACE) which will, either directly or indirectly, increase police powers of all terrorism and general stop and searches/accounts whilst simultaneously reducing police accountability.

In this new context to allow for the draconian power such as s.44 in whatever guise will simply alienate vast swathes of communities who we have only just managed to build a working relationship with.”

The concern over a new section 44 is equally recognised by Jenny Jones, AM from the Green Party and member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. She explains in a letter that; “Such new powers will allow the police to repeat the same mistakes as the previous Labour government, with its liberty-reducing powers that were useless, as well as counterproductive. The police wasted huge amounts of their time and our money stopping tens of thousands of people for no good reason, and with little proven result apart from annoying a large section of our multiracial society.

New anti-terrorism powers, combined with budget cuts, will lead to overstretched police being distracted from their primary task, which is dealing with the everyday crimes that people want solved. Better intelligence is what can help the police subvert criminals and terrorists, and that is achieved by better community relations, not by alienating ethnic minorities yet again.”

Read the full Guardian article and the letters here: