One of my bugbears has been the awful implementation of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act within the United Kingdom.
This has been used to chase and hound people, and photographers in particular have felt the long arm of the law when taking pictures, and then being searched and questioned under Section 44.
Here are a few classic examples:
- – City Police still using Terror Act to bother photographers
- – Homeless photographer stopped under anti-terror law
- – Sussex Police searched hundreds of people illegally
- – Warning: Do Not take this picture (BBC Photographer stopped)
- And many more (written about in this blog)
Today, Section 44 has been suspended from use and police now have to use Section 43 which requires police officers reasonable suspicion of being a terrorist.
Here is the statement from the Home Secretary Theresa May
Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
On Wednesday of last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that its judgment in the case of Gillan and Quinton is final. This judgment found that the stop and search powers granted under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 amount to the violation of the right to a private life.
The Court found that the powers are drawn too broadly – at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used. It also found that the powers contain insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.
The Government cannot appeal this judgment – although we would not have done so had we been able. We have always been clear in our concerns about these powers, and they will be included as part of our review of counter-terrorism legislation.
I can therefore tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of section 44 in contravention of the European Court’s ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of the civil liberties of every one of us. But neither will I leave the police without the powers they need to protect us.
Since last Wednesday, I have sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces. In order to comply with the judgment – but avoid pre-empting the review of counter-terrorism legislation – I have decided to introduce interim guidelines for the police.
I am therefore changing the test for authorisation for the use of section 44 powers from requiring a search to be ‘expedient’ for the prevention of terrorism, to the stricter test of it being ‘necessary’ for that purpose. And, most importantly, I am introducing a new suspicion threshold.
Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers. Instead, they will have to rely on section 43 powers – which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist.
And officers will only be able to use section 44 in relation to the searches of vehicles. I will only confirm these authorisations where they are considered to be necessary, and officers will only be able to use them when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’.
These interim measures will bring section 44 stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgment. They will provide operational clarity for the police. And they will last until we have completed our review of counter-terrorism laws.
Mr Speaker, the first duty of government is to protect the public. But that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties. I believe that the interim proposals I have set out today give the police the support they need and protect those ancient rights.
I commend this statement to the House.
And from a personal viewpoint – About Bloody Time.