22 December 2014

Briefing on Stop and Search and PCC developments: October - December 2014

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Welcome to the third edition of a regular series of StopWatch briefings outlining some of the key developments in police use of stop and search. This briefing will also address updates in relation to the work of Police and Crime Commissioners (‘PCC’) across England and Wales. We’d welcome any feedback and comments to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

This briefing covers the following major developments between October and December 2014:

  1. All Party Parliamentary Group for Children inquiry into children and young people’s experiences of the police
  2. Revised Code of Practice on what constitutes ‘reasonable suspicion’ to stop and search
  3. Home Office consultation on reforming the police complaints and disciplinary system
  4. Power to recall Police and Crime Commissioners
  5. Quarterly statistics on the use of counter-terrorism stops and searches section 43 and schedule 7

Our previous briefing covering key developments between July to September can be found here.


1. All Party Parliamentary Group for Children inquiry into children and young people’s experiences of the police

Following the publications of the initial findings of this inquiry reported a previous briefing, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) published the inquiry’s final report into the experiences of children and young people of the police. The report concluded that many children and young people’s first contact with the police was through a stop and search and that they were disproportionately searched compared to any other age group. These experiences, they argued, often lacked respect, a sufficient explanation as to why the person was being searched and what their rights are. The APPGC made the following recommendations:

  • The College of Policing should review police training to enhance the confidence, understanding and ability of police officers to communicate with children and young people,
  • Young people and children should be involved in local training of police officers,
  • Best practice relating to searches of young people should be promoted under the Home Office Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (see the previous briefing for more information on the scheme),
  • All police forces should have independent scrutiny panels consisting of young people to address their disproportionate feature in stop and search experience,
  • Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the national body that inspects police forces’ efficiency and effectively, should inspect police forces’ search of young people as part of their new annual inspection programme,
  • Searches of children should also feature as part of search data to be published onto crime maps,
  • Statutory guidance to officers should be revised so that the date of birth of under 18s searched is recorded (or a visual estimate where the child does not disclose this information),
  • The College of Policing should produce national guidance on the stop and search of children and young people after a public consultation on the matter,
  • There should be a ‘presumption’ against searches of children under 10 years of age except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.


2. Revised Code of Practice on what constitutes ‘reasonable suspicion’ to stop and search

The Home Office held a public consultation on changes to redefining what constitutes ‘reasonable suspicion’, the legal basis for most powers to stop and search, and published a final draft of the code which is expected to come into effect before the end of March 2015. The consultation made changes to Code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) which governs stops and searches and provides officers with practice advice on how to interpret and use their legal powers. Code A does not cover any of the counter-terrorism powers which are governed by a separate code of practice.

The concept of reasonable suspicion is now tied more directly to (a) the existence of “genuine suspicion” that a person is carrying a dangerous, stolen item or prohibited item (such as drugs) and (b) that likelihood that the object of the search will be found. The revised code also:

  • Tied reasonable suspicion more closely to the existence of intelligence or specific behaviours of individuals,
  • Excluded police ‘hunches’ or ‘instinct’ as a justification to search,
  • Emphasised that people searched should not be asked to provide their personal information solely to complete the form,
  • Highlighted the need to safeguard children and young people encountered by the police although it did not provide any specific measures to do this,
  • Extended officers’ ability to search groups and gangs to members of organised protest groups,
  • Placed a stronger duty upon supervising officers and senior police to monitor and supervise the use of these powers and take any necessary disciplinary action,
  • Introduced a requirement for section 60 authorisations to include the names of the streets compromising the outer boundaries of the authorisation to ensure that officers were clear about how far those powers extend (see Note 13 towards the end of the code).

StopWatch submitted a response to the consultation welcoming the Home Secretary’s revisions and recommended the following principles or issues to be reflected in the code to strengthen it further:

  • Safeguards for young and vulnerable persons be explicitly incorporated,
  • People are not targeted on the basis of broad generalisations and stereotypes,
  • That paragraphs sanctioning the use of force reflect existing law and guidance,
  • Clear explanations are required as to what is being looked for during a search, and the officer's grounds for suspecting an individual of carrying the articles,
  • The rights of Independent Observers are covered,
  • The rules on the extent to which a search can occur in different situations are drafted in a more accessible way,
  • Strip searches are recorded and the guidance on when they are permitted is more clear,
  • The provisions of Code A extend to stop and search under Schedule 7 Terrorism act 2000,
  • More guidance on Stop and Account is contained within Code A including a requirement that leaving a stop and account does not constitute reasonable grounds for suspicion,
  • Searches of the age of children and young people is recorded, and
  • ‘Intelligence’ should be clearly defined.

3. Home Office consultation on reforming the police complaints and disciplinary system

The Home Office is consulting on its proposals to reform the police complaints system by giving PCCs the responsibility for recording and receiving complaints, deciding whether it is resolved locally or the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and resolving local complaints.

The consultation ends on 5th February 2015 and more detail can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/improving-police-integrity-reforming-the-police-complaints-and-disciplinary-systems


4. Power to recall Police and Crime Commissioners

In its response to the House of Common’s Home Affair’s Select Committee, a committee of elected members of parliament who scrutinise the Home Office and issues that fall within its remit, the government indicated that it would consider its recommendation to introduce a power to recall PCCs. This will be considered as part of the government’s proposals to recall MPs.

More information on the power to recall can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reforming-the-constitution-and-political-system


5. Quarterly statistics on the use of counter-terrorism stops and searches section 43 and schedule 7

Statistics were recently published by the Home Office on the use of section 43 counter-terrorism stops and searches on the streets in the Metropolitan Police area and schedule 7 examinations and detentions at ports and airports. Section 43 is a street power that requires officers to have reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a terrorist in order to then search the person for any evidence of their involvement in acts of terrorism. Apart from the Metropolitan Police, no other police force publishes separate data on their use of section 43 and so the true extent of these searches across the country is unknown. Schedule 7 is the widest-ranging search power in the UK and used at ports. The law  provides officers with a power to ‘examine’ or physically ‘detain’ a person for up to 6 hours without requiring any level of suspicion to do so (see our recent briefing on this power for more details).

Section 43
Data from the Metropolitan Police show a decline of 35% in the use of recorded section 43 down from 568 in the previous year to 369. Of the 369 searched, 23 resulted in an arrest which equates to a 6% ‘hit’ rate, representing a fall 36% drop in searches leading to an arrest. 37% of the total number of people searched were white, 27% were Asian, 13% black, 9% were Chinese or ‘other’. During April to June 2014, all ethnic groups saw at least a 27% decline in their search rate compared to January to March. This was with the exception of Asians whose searches increased by 6%.

There is no data on the proportion of arrests for terrorism, the proportion for unrelated matters or the number of arrests that subsequently result in a conviction and therefore it is hard to judge how effective the power is.

Schedule 7
National data on the use of schedule 7 show that the power was used 26% than it was during the same period last year, detentions were also down by 23%. Compared to the first quarter of the year (January to March), examinations were down by 17% in April to June and detentions were down by just under 14%.

White people were the single largest ethnic group detained in the second quarter of 2014 comprising 34% of all examinations but made up under 8% of resulting detentions. Asians were the second highest category examined at 23% but made up the single largest group detained at 33%. 18% of all examinees were Chinese or ‘other’ and were the second largest group detained accounting for 33% of all detentions. As with previous data on schedule 7, this shows that people from ethnic minority backgrounds, particularly those from Asian backgrounds, tend to be detained for longer periods of time and therefore face the more extreme aspects of schedule 7 powers. No data is published on the number of arrests or convictions arising from the exercise of these powers and therefore it is hard to judge how effective the power really is.