Stop And Search Powers Illegal

(Guardian) – THE EUROPEAN COURT of human rights today ruled that Britain’s controversial stop and search powers were illegal, in a blow to the government’s policy on combating the threat of terrorism.

The court ruled that powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion violated article eight of the European convention on human rights.

The cased involved Kevin Gillan, 32, a student from Sheffield, and Pennie Quinton, 38 a freelance photojournalist from south London, who were held under the act in 2003.

They were stopped and searched while on their way to a demonstration at Europe’s biggest arms fair at the ExCel centre in Docklands, east London.

Seven judges sitting in the Strasbourg court ruled that the pair’s right to respect for a private and family life had been violated. The court awarded them €33,850 (£30,400) in compensation.

The judgment overturns a House of Lords ruling in 2006 when five Law Lords unanimously rejected Gillan and Quinton’s appeal. It is expected to force the government to amend the legislation to ensure it complies with human rights convention.

The judgment challenges section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows the home secretary to authorise police to make random searches in certain circumstances. The act removed the previous requirements that the police had to have grounds for suspicion in order to conduct a search.

Instead officers only had to show it was “expedient” to do so. The lack of a stricter legal test and the absence of sufficient safeguards meant that this was a breach of the European convention on human rights, the court said, adding that it was “struck” by how widely the powers had been used, with over 100,000 searches conducted. Between 2004 and 2008 the number of such searches increased from 33,177 to 111,278.

“In the court’s view, the wide discretion conferred on the police under the 2000 act, both in terms of the authorisation of the power to stop and search and its application in practice, had not been curbed by adequate legal safeguards so as to offer the individual adequate protection against arbitrary interference,” the ruling says.

Corinna Ferguson, a legal officer for Liberty, welcomed the judgment. She said: “Liberty has consistently warned the government about the dangers of stop and search without suspicion and actively campaigned for the tightening up of the infamous Section 44 power. The public, police and court of human rights all share our concerns for privacy, protest, race equality and community solidarity that come with this sloppy law.  In the coming weeks, parliamentarians must finally sort this mess.”

The full judgment is available here.

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