Liberty wins landmark stop and search case in Court of Human Rights

12 January 2010

Today the Court of Human Rights ruled that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (the broad police power for stop and search without suspicion) violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights.

In the case of Gillan and Quinton V the United Kingdom, the Court found that:

“…the powers of authorisation and confirmation as well as those of stop and search... are neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. ….They are not therefore “in accordance with the law”.”

The case arose from an arms fair in the Docklands area of East London in September 2003 where Pennie Quinton and Kevin Gillan (amongst many other journalists and peace protestors) were subject to lengthy stop and search and prevented from attending a demonstration. After public consternation and parliamentary questions, it emerged that the whole of Greater London had been secretly designated for stop and search without suspicion on a rolling basis since 2001.

Corinna Ferguson, Legal Officer for Liberty and acting for the applicants, 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 out this mess.”

Pennie Quinton said:

“There has to be a balance between private life and security. The Court has shown that section 44 is an invasion of people’s right to liberty and privacy.”

Kevin Gillan said:

“It’s fantastic news after a long struggle. I look to the Government for a strong response.” Contact: Mairi Clare Rodgers on 020 7378 3656 or 07973831128 Notes to Editors

1) Section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows “areas” (not defined) to be designated for stop and search without suspicion by a police constable. Designation is by an Assistant Chief Constable (subsequently endorsed by the Home Secretary). Designations may be made in secret and no judicial or parliamentary involvement is required. Designations last 28 days but have been made on a rolling basis for years at a time. Whole police areas may be designated and during the height of the Iraq War, these included several counties of England and Wales. The test for designation is not “necessity” but mere “expedience”.

2) The power has frequently been used against peaceful protestors including the octogenarian holocaust survivor Walter Wolfgang who was unlawfully ejected from the Labour Party conference in 2005 after heckling the then Foreign Secretary (now Justice Secretary) Jack Straw.

3) The statistics on the use of this power demonstrate as few as 0.6 per cent of stop and searches in 2007/8 resulted in an arrest and that if you are black or asian you are between 5 and 7 times more likely to be stopped under section 44. The Court noted (paragraph 85 of the judgment), the disproportionate number of black and asian people that have been stopped. Liberty will be suggesting urgent amendments to section 44 during the passage of the Crime and Security Bill (before Parliament in the next few weeks). These would:

- Require that a section 44 authorization is only given if either events to be held in a specific area; the nature of a place; or
specific information received mean that the person giving the authorization reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent acts of terrorism.

- Require that authorizations for an area or place are no larger than is reasonably necessary to enable a constable to effectively respond to a terrorism threat and is no more than one square kilometre in total.

- Require that authorizations can be made only by a chief officer of police.
 
- Require that authorizations do not last longer than is reasonably necessary and must not exceed 24 hours.

- Require that authorizations are not renewed for the same area within 7 days unless renewed in writing by the Secretary of State.
 
- Require that if the Secretary of State renews an authorization on six or more occasions he or she must lay a copy of the renewed authorization before both Houses of Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable.
 
- Require that notice of an authorization must be published as soon as reasonably practicable and not later than 7 days after the authorization is given.