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Terrorism powers factsheet

On the law, the history, and the statistics behind the search powers arguably reserved for the most extreme circumstances

The law

The Terrorism Act 2000 gives police – and personnel from other national agencies – broad stop and search powers intended to be used for counter-terror purposes.

Three specific parts of this piece of legislation give police different stop and search powers, comprising both ‘suspicion-based’ powers (like those conferred by section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984) and ‘suspicionless’ powers (similar to those of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994).

The three powers set out in the Terrorism Act 2000 are:

Section 43

Section 43(1) of the Terrorism Act 2000 gives a police constable the power to stop and search any person they ‘reasonably suspect’ of being a terrorist, in order to determine whether that person has in their possession any item that could ‘constitute evidence’ that they are a terrorist.

The officer’s reasonable grounds for suspicion should be based on a two-stage test:

  • The officer must have formed a genuine suspicion in their own mind that they will find the object
  • The suspicion that the object will be found must be reasonable

The definition of ‘reasonable suspicion’ is contested and controversial. However, the officer’s suspicion must have an objective basis in specific facts, information, or intelligence related to the likelihood of finding the object in question.

Police officers must also adhere to the relevant code of practice, which expands on the meaning of ‘reasonable suspicion’, and stipulates that, ‘[r]easonable suspicion cannot be based on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people as more likely to be involved in terrorist activity’.

The code of practice also says that ‘Unless the police have a description of a suspect, a person’s physical appearance (including any of the “protected characteristics” set out in the Equality Act 2010), cannot be used alone or in combination with each other or with any other factor, as the reason for searching that person’.

Other parts of s43 make provision for the police to search vehicles (as well as both the driver and any passengers) and those convicted of terrorism offences released on licence and their place of residence.

Section 47A

Section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000 enables a senior police officer to authorise ‘suspicionless’ stop and searches within a specific area for a limited time, up to a maximum period of 14 days.

The home secretary must be notified of any section 47A authorisation as soon as possible, and their permission must be sought if a section 47A authorisation is to last beyond 48 hours.

When a section 47A authorisation is in place, a police officer can stop and search any person or vehicle within the specified area, without reasonable grounds for suspicion. However, before giving a s47A authorisation, the senior officer giving that authorisation ‘must reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism will take place and considers that the powers are necessary to prevent such an act’.

Since section 47A came into force in 2011, only four authorisations of these powers have been made – for the British Transport Police, West Yorkshire police, North Yorkshire police, and City of London police – all following the Parsons Green tube station attack in 2017.

Schedule 7

Schedule 7 (and its corresponding code of practice) allows a police officer, an immigration officer, or a customs official to stop, search, and detain any person passing through the UK border (for example, at an airport or port) for up to 6 hours in order to determine whether they are a terrorist.

The use of Schedule 7 powers requires neither ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ nor prior authorisation by a senior officer.

Officers and officials can search a person’s property and vehicle, and can take fingerprints, photographs, and a DNA sample. Officers can also request that the person being searched provide passwords or PINs for phones and other electronic devices.

However, Schedule 7 does not allow officers to carry out an ‘intimate search’, and a ‘strip search’ can only be carried out if the officer has ‘reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is concealing something which may be evidence [that they are a terrorist]’ and the search is authorised by a senior officer ‘who has not been directly involved in questioning the person’.

Refusing to submit to a search under Schedule 7 powers, and refusing to answer questions, is punishable by a fine of up to £2,500, a period of imprisonment of up to three months, or both.

Summary of stop and search powers under the Terrorism Act 2000

  • Section 43, the 'conventional' counter-terror stop and search power: a police officer can stop and search anyone they ‘reasonably suspect’ of being a terrorist
  • Section 47A, the 'exceptional' counter-terror stop and search power: when authorised by a senior officer, allows police to stop and search any person in a specific area within a certain timeframe - without the need for ‘reasonable suspicion’
  • Schedule 7, the border control stop and search power: allows officers and customs officials at the UK border to stop, search, and detain any person in order to determine whether they are a terrorist – without the need for prior authorisation or ‘reasonable suspicion’

Associated legislation

The Terrorism Act 2000 is not the only piece of legislation that gives police the power to stop and search you. Other stop and search legislation linked to the act includes:

See StopWatch's factsheets on other stop and search powers:

Upcoming legislative changes

In July 2022, a new revised draft code of practice covering sections 43 and 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000 was laid before parliament, and will come into force (replacing the current 2012 code) once it has been debated and approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Similarly, a new draft code of practice covering Schedule 7 powers was published in May 2022.

This factsheet will be updated when the 2022 codes come into force.

The history


In 1995, the then home secretary Michael Howard appointed Lord Lloyd of Berwick to conduct a review of anti-terrorism law in the United Kingdom. Over the previous decades, the primary legal basis for countering terrorism in Northern Ireland had been the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, along with various other pieces of temporary legislation – for example, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996.

In the context of the 1994 Irish Republican Army ceasefire and progress towards peace in Northern Ireland, Lord Lloyd was instructed to investigate whether the UK needed permanent anti-terrorism legislation if the peace process were to succeed long term.

In the report of his Inquiry, Lord Lloyd concluded that permanent anti-terrorism legislation in the UK was indeed necessary.

Lord Lloyd’s recommendations went on to form the basis of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was enacted with all-party approval. It adopted an extremely broad definition of terrorism, and also consolidated and expanded many of the various anti-terror laws that had originally been enacted as emergency measures over the course of the Troubles. The Act had been in force for little more than a year when the September 11 attacks happened in 2001.

The Terrorism Act initially created three stop and search powers intended to be used for counter-terrorism policing. Section 43 was the ‘conventional’ counter-terror stop and search power, similar to section 1 of PACE 1984; section 44 was the ostensibly ‘exceptional’ power, comparable to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; and Schedule 7 outlined stop and search powers available to police officers and immigration and customs officials at the UK border.

The Act and its constituent parts drew criticism immediately from a variety of sources for a number of reasons – but it was section 44 in particular, which allowed police to stop and search anyone in a designated area without the need for reasonable suspicion – which proved particularly controversial.

By expanding and making permanent the provisions of previous temporary legislation, the Terrorism Act reinforced the general approach whereby terrorism offences are governed by a separate regulatory framework from other crimes. It also made broad, discretionary, proactive forms of policing that had, until then, been considered ‘exceptional’ a regular feature of British society. (Quinlan & Derfoufi, 2015: 126)

The legal challenge against section 44

Although section 44 could only be used when specifically authorised by the home secretary, in practice, a series of rolling authorisations were issued across London, with the effect that the ‘suspicionless’ s44 stop and search powers were available to the Metropolitan Police at any time for most of the decade after the act came into force in 2001.

In 2003, officers stopped and searched two people – Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton, a journalist – on their way to a demonstration against an arms fair held in central London, detaining them for 30 minutes. This sparked a legal challenge on the grounds that the home secretary had acted ultra vires in authorising s44 stops on a continuous basis across London, and that these authorisations violated parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, which had been enshrined in domestic law in 1998 through the Human Rights Act.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that s44 infringed Article 8 – the right to respect for private life – and that the stop and search powers of s44 were not adequately circumscribed, nor did they have sufficient legal safeguards against their abuse.

Following the judgment in Gillan and Quinton v the United Kingdom, Theresa May suspended s44 in July 2010. In 2011, an amended version of the s44 ‘suspicionless’ stop and search power was introduced – s47A – and a new code of practice was issued. Since then, there have only been four authorisations of this power, all following the Parsons Green tube station attack in 2017.

During its 10-year lifespan, and after 600,000 stops, not one s44 stop and search resulted in a conviction for a terrorist offence.

In many ways, […] stop and search for the purposes of counter-terrorism echoes the use of stop and search more generally: what was supposed to be an ‘exceptional’ power to combat the threat of terrorism has been normalised and used for routine policing matters; black and minority ethnic groups have been disproportionately subject to the use of these powers; and the associated costs appear to outweigh the benefits. (Quinlan & Derfoufi, 2015: 123-124).

The numbers

Sources and further reading


Further reading

  • A collection of work on stop and search powers in the UK, edited by two of our trustees: Delsol & Shiner (2015) Stop and Search: An Anatomy of a Police Power - see in particular chapter by Tara Lai Quinlan and Zin Derfoufi: 'Counter-Terrorism Policing'

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