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Demise of section 44 stop and search - Statement from Liberty

Statement from Liberty

The Home Secretary today announced the suspension of the broad stop and search powers found in section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

This widely discredited power, that allowed blanket stop and search without any suspicion of terrorism, was designated in secret by senior police officers and past Home Secretaries often on a rolling basis across whole counties of England and Wales.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty welcomed the Home Secretary’s decision:

"Liberty welcomes the end of the infamous s.44 stop and search power that criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected. We argued against it for ten years and spent the last seven challenging it all the way to the Court of Human Rights.

It is a blanket and secretive power that has been used against school kids, journalists, peace protesters and a disproportionate number of young black men. To our knowledge, it has never helped catch a single terrorist. This is a very important day for personal privacy, protest rights and race equality in Britain."

In January of this year a seven year Liberty legal challenge (Gillan and Quinton V the United Kingdom) resulted in the Court of Human Rights ruling that section 44 violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights.

The case arose from an arms fair in the Docklands area of East London in September 2003 where journalists and peace protestors were subject to lengthy stop and search and prevented from attending a demonstration. Liberty’s challenge revealed that the whole of Greater London had been secretly designated for stop and search without suspicion on a rolling basis since 2001.

Prior to the General Election, the previous Government made a last ditch appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court of Human Rights which was roundly refused. Continued use of the power would only have left both the public and police under confusion about a law that was ripe for misuse and further legal challenges.

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 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.