19 January 2011

StopWatch submits letter to Nick Herbert MP regarding PACE

Kam Gill's avatar

​Following the debate regarding the proposed amendments of PACE and later the decision to drop the new provision StopWatch has written a letter to Nick Herbert, MP.

StopWatch welcomes the decision to drop the proposed changes which allowed officers to use race to select people to search under section 60 and strengthened the wording noting the applicability of search decisions to the Equalities Act 2010. Yet, there remains a concern that there has not been a full transparent public consultation process which has forced StopWatch to react.

Dear Mr Herbert,

Re: Proposed changes to Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984.

We are writing with regards to the government’s proposed changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. As you may be aware, StopWatch is an action group formed of leading organisations from civil society, the legal profession and academia. StopWatch aims to ensure the fair and effective use of stop and search powers to promote safety and positive police community relations.

We write in regard to the proposed changes to the PACE guidance, which were revised in September 2010 and again last week, December 2010. We welcome the decision to drop the new provision allowing officers to use race to select people to search under section 60 and the strengthened wording noting the applicability of search decisions to the Equalities Act 2010. Yet, we remain concerned that there has not been a full and transparent public consultation process around the proposed changes, which will amount to a significant change to the operation of stop and search and have the potential to increase disproportionate targeting of ethnic minority communities and further damage police-community relationships.

We remain concerned about the following issues: 

  • The amendments remove the requirement to record stop and account. Over two million people are stopped and asked to account for their actions every year. Black and Asian people continue to be disproportionately stopped and asked to account for themselves compared with the white population. Scrapping the stop and account form will severely undermine police accountability to the public, without making the time savings that have been promised. The revisions propose allowing individual police forces to reinstate recording of stops when there are local concerns about disproportionality, but the decision rests entirely in police hands, denying affected communities a role in the decision-making.
  • The amendments reduce the recording requirements for stops and searches. The proposals will make it harder for the police or communities to determine the effectiveness of stop and search powers and may lead to allegations of harassment and abuse that cannot be substantiated or disproved. Overall, the changes will weaken both internal and external accountability. Again, we dispute the claim that this will make significant savings in police time and argue that the savings that will be made cannot be balanced against the impact that the power and the reduced requirements has on community trust and confidence in the police.
  • The amendments do not go far enough to ensure the fair, effective and accountable use of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. There is no provision made to ensure that the intelligence used to invoke section 60 stop and search powers meets legal standards or to see that the power is used consistently within and between forces. The safeguards also fail to adequately address the potential for ethnic profiling in the use of this exceptional power without reasonable suspicion.

A longer briefing is provided in the attached document.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to address disproportionality in stop and search and endorsement of the National Policing Improvement Agency’s “Next Steps” project, made during your speech on 1st December. ‘Next Steps’ is a pilot initiative that is currently being tested in Dorset, Merseyside and the London borough of Lewisham. StopWatch looks forward to seeing the results of the pilot but is concerned that this is the only government action being undertaken to improve effectiveness and reduce disproportionality in stop and search nationally. The Next Steps process to date has not been transparent: there is no external oversight or community involvement in the process and no external evaluation of how effective and robust Next Steps is as a tool. Next Steps is a diagnostic tool for identifying drivers that may be leading to unfair and ineffective stop and search but it has no power of enforcement. Whatever is identified can simply be ignored by police forces if they wish and as the process is closed, communities will have no idea what has been suggested. Nor will they have a voice to push for relevant changes to be made. An independent evaluation of the NPIA ‘Next Steps’ project should be undertaken and external oversight and community involvement be included in the project before it is rolled out nationally. Inspection bodies, such as the HMIC or EHRC should be tasked with ensuring that the recommendations made by the ‘Next Steps’ analysis are implemented in each force. As we noted in our response to the “Policing in the 21st Century” consultation, there are innovative forms of external monitoring being developed which empower local communities to monitor the use of stop and search, address disproportionality and quality of encounters and serve to improve trust and confidence at a local level. These practices should be shared and replicated nationally to complement the work being done under “Next Steps.”

We welcome your offer of a pubic meeting to discuss the proposed changes, made at the Westminster Hall Debate on 1st December. The public have to date been excluded from any meaningful consultation around the proposed changes so we are pleased to hear that external groups will be able to participate. NGOs and community groups should have the opportunity to highlight their opinions on stop and search and give examples of good practice. We would also suggest inviting police leads from various police forces who are working on these issues at a local level as they would be able to contribute some practical, “on the ground” information.  We would be happy to help you organise such an event.

We would be also be delighted for the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our concerns further and would be grateful if your office could contact Kjartan Sveinsson – kjartan@runnymedetrust.org – to arrange a suitable time.

Yours sincerely,

STOPWATCH

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