European Court Of Human Rights Rules Police Terror Stops IllegalGovernment could revoke “stop and search” powers altogether
By Steve Watson
Jul. 01, 2010
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The European Court Of Human Rights has officially ruled police “stop and search” powers, under UK Terrorism laws, illegal for the second time, rejecting a government appeal.
Under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, police can stop and search anyone without reasonable suspicion.
The British High Court and the Court of Appeal have previously ruled that the powers are legitimate given the risk of terrorism in London.
However, the use of the powers by the police was ruled illegal by the European Court in January, a decision that paves the way for protesters, photographers and everyday citizens to fight back against such gross invasions of privacy.
The government attempted to challenge that decision, however, permission to do so has now been refused. The European Court also announced that any future appeals would not be accepted.
The court in Strasbourg referred to stop and search powers as not in “accordance with the law”, and a violation of article eight of The European Convention on Human Rights -- the right to respect for private and family life.
Article eight states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life”.
Furthermore: “There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security… or the prevention of disorder or crime… or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Judges noted that there is no grounds for considering the powers “necessary”, and that they are only “expedient”, adding that there is a “clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion” to a police officer.
They also stated that the searching clothing and belongings interferes with the right to privacy as it involves an element of humiliation and embarrassment.
The use of the powers and their authorisation is “neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse”, according to the court.
The court also highlighted a lack of judicial oversight, stating “The absence of any obligation on the part of the officer to show a reasonable suspicion made it almost impossible to prove that the power had been improperly exercised”.
Despite these findings, the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers pledged to continue using Section 44.
The rejection of the government’s appeal of the decision (see the letter below), which was instigated in April, now paves the way for pressure to completely repeal the powers, particularly given that the new coalition government has pledged to instigate a “Great Repeal Bill” targeting unnecessary laws that constitute a threat to civil liberties.
Separate revelations earlier this month that 14 different police forces in the UK had unlawfully used stop and search powers in 40 operations dating back to 2001 also provides the perfect pretext for scrapping them altogether.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government has already committed to reviewing counter-terrorism legislation, which will include the operation of the Section 44 stop and search provisions.”
“We are currently giving full consideration to the judgement and its implications.” the spokesman added, referring to the European Court’s ruling.
The ruling from the Human Rights Court refers to the case of Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton who were detained for attending a protest outside Europe's biggest arms fair in London in September 2003.
Having finally achieved justice after more than six years of pursuing the matter, the pair were awarded €33,850 (£30,400) in costs and expenses. The full judgment is online here.
Gillan and Quinton, who like many others could have just walked away, should be commended as heroes for their efforts to defend freedom in the UK.
Anti-terror laws are intended for use on the general public, they always have been, and now we are seeing the rotten fruits of continued blind acceptance contaminate every section of society in this country.
Gillan and Quinton have paved the way for others who have been the victims of the misuse of these draconian terrorism laws to fight back and help push for a complete rejection of such abuses of power.