British government curtails `stop-and-search` powers

Last Updated: Friday, July 9, 2010 - 10:39

London: Britain has curbed police stop-and-search powers following years of complaints that they were being used excessively to interrogate law-abiding citizens.

Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May said the powers - which were introduced by the previous Labour government 10 years ago - should in future only be used against people suspected of terrorism.

The move follows a recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that the power to search people without suspicion - under Section 44 of Britain`s Terrorism Act 2000 - was illegal.

"I will not allow the continued use of Section 44 in contravention of the European Court`s ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of our civil liberties," May told Parliament.

In future, the powers would be used where it was "necessary, rather than expedient," to prevent terrorism. A new "suspicion threshold" would be introduced to limit the use of the powers.

The move was welcomed by civil liberty campaigners.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said the previous practice had "criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected".

Alex Carlile, the government`s independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, said Section 44 had been ineffective in combating terrorism, and had caused community tensions by being used "arbitrarily and for incorrect purposes".

Figures show that police in England and Wales used the powers to search nearly 125,000 people in 2007-2008, up from just over 41,000 in the previous year. Only one percent of the searches led to arrests.
Nearly 90 percent of the searches were carried out in London, where officers stopped people up to 10,000 times a month - figures which Carlile called "alarming".

In his annual report for 2007-2008, Carlile said police searched people they had no cause of suspecting so that they could avoid being accused of prejudice against Muslims and Asians.
"I believe it is totally wrong for any person to be stopped in order to produce racial balance in Section 44 statistics. There is ample anecdotal evidence that this is happening," wrote Carlile.

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First Published: Friday, July 9, 2010 - 10:39

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