Socialist Worker

Court case says stop and search powers are 'illegal'

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2185

Police act against a protester at a demonstration over the EDO arms company in Brighton on Monday, marking the first anniversary of Israel’s assault on Gaza

Police act against a protester at a demonstration over the EDO arms company in Brighton on Monday, marking the first anniversary of Israel’s assault on Gaza (Pic: »<

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last week ruled that the police’s use of stop and search is illegal. But the Labour government is determined to keep the powers.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, police officers can stop and search anyone in a designated area without having to show reasonable suspicion for doing so.

The police are abusing this power to stop anyone, including protesters and photographers.

But the ECHR said that the laws breached the right to privacy.

It was ruling on a case brought by Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton, who were subjected to so-called Section 44 stops outside an arms fair in east London in 2003.

Courts in Britain, including the House of Lords, rejected their challenge over the legality of the power. But the ECHR said the powers were “neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse.

“They are not, therefore, ‘in accordance with the law’.”


Pennie Quinton told Socialist Worker, “The ruling is fantastic news after a long struggle. 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.

“I was covering the arms fair protests for Channel 4. The first time I was stopped under the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) stop and search.

“When I went back the next day protesters were running and I was filming. I was taken aside by a policewoman. I showed my press card but they just wanted to search me.

“Under Section 44 you cannot refuse to be searched and force can be used against you. We argued that this is an abuse of human rights.

“If there is a guerrilla campaign against London I don’t want to be blown up on a bus, but the police have to be answerable and accountable. They can’t be above the law.

“You can see from the police response to deaths in custody, where despite numerous inquests finding against the police, nothing changes.

“If the police are never brought to justice that puts us in even more danger.

“This is a brilliant victory— partially because I have had a lot of harassment. It’s great to change a law.”

Under Section 44 the police will designate certain areas where officers can stop and search anyone for a set period.

The Metropolitan Police designated the whole of London as such an area between 2001 and last year.

There were 256,000 stops under the terror law in the last year. Just 0.6 percent of these resulted in an arrest. This was a big rise on the 33,177 stops in 2004.

Disgracefully, the government said it was “disappointed” with the ruling and was looking to appeal. The police currently retain their draconian powers under Section 44.

Kent police last week admitted that the “stop and search” of three people going to a Climate Camp protest was unlawful.

All three were searched under Section 1 of the PACE, which requires officers to have “reasonable suspicion” that an individual is carrying prohibited weapons or articles that could be used for criminal damage.

Two judges at the high court last week heard that the three cases could now be settled following the police’s admission that Section 1 powers were wrongly used.

More than 3,000 other people were stopped at the event on the same “unlawful basis”.

Mass photo gathering to protest against the police’s use of terror laws to harass photographers, 12 noon, Saturday 23 January, Trafalgar Square, London. Called by I’m A Photographer, Not A Terrorist

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 19 Jan 2010, 18:59 GMT
Issue No. 2185
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.