Section 44 Terrorism Act
Under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, any police officer could stop and search anyone or any vehicle within a specific area.
The search could be for any item on the person, carried by the person or in the vehicle, and there was no need for the police officer to suspect that person of anything.
An area could be designated as one where people and vehicles can be stopped and searched at any time, by an assistant chief constable (or someone of similar rank or above) and the Home Secretary had to confirm the authorisation. The authorisation could be made at any time that the person making it considered it 'expedient’ for the prevention of acts of terrorism, could last up to 28 days and could be renewed.
The powers under section 44 were so broadly drawn that authorisations allowing for stop and search were made on a rolling basis from their introduction in 2001. For example, for almost 10 years all of Greater London was designated as an area in which anyone could be stopped and searched without suspicion.
As a result of this, we have seen section 44 powers being used against peaceful protestors on a regular basis. The statistics showed that if you’re Black or Asian you were between five and seven times more likely to be stopped under section 44 than if you were White. Yet of the many thousands of people stopped under this power, not one was subsequently convicted of a terrorism offence.
In early 2010 Liberty won a landmark legal case before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that section 44 was unlawful. In Gillan and Quinton v UK, the Court ruled that section 44 violates the right to respect for private life because the power is so broad it fails to provide safeguards against abuse.
Section 44 and the Counter-Terror Review
In July 2010 the Government announced that it was suspending the police’s power to stop and search an individual without suspicion under section 44. Liberty submitted a detailed response on section 44, calling for its repeal. Read our response (PDF).
The Home Secretary’s roll-back of section 44 powers has been confirmed in the Government’s Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers. The Review recognised that change was needed in this area to comply with the Gillan and Quinton judgment, and that the broad framework of the legislative provision has lead to valid concerns about misuse. Accordingly the Review recommended that section 44 be repealed. However, it also recommended that there be provision for the power to be used:
- In exceptional emergencies, but;
- Only where a senior police officer who reasonably suspects an act of terrorism will take place authorises its use in circumstances where the powers are considered 'necessary' (rather than the current requirement that the powers be ‘expedient’) to prevent such an act.
It was recommended that an emergency authorisation:
- Last for a maximum 14 days, and;
- Be tightly limited in both time and geographic area.
The Protection of Freedoms Act
In May 2012, section 44 was repealed and replaced in the Protection of Freedoms Act. The replacement power is a significant improvement. It allows a senior police officer to authorise an area for stop and search without suspicion in a specified area where she or he reasonably suspects an act of terrorism is about to occur. With tougher time limits and other safeguards aiming to ensure the power is only used in genuine emergencies, Liberty welcomed these changes.