Section 44

Yesterday was a good day for civil liberties.

Theresa May came to the Commons to make a statement in response to a decision by the European Court of Human rights that judged that the use of stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 amounted to a violation of the right to a private life.

Section 44 was already going to be dealt with – so it was a decision welcomed by the coalition government. Alan Johnson, (Labour ex-Home Secretary) said he was shocked that this Home Secretary was not going to appeal the decision. He was pretty much on his own in this view – as other Labour back-benchers stood to commend the government’s actions. But it was a reminder how authoritarian the last government had been.

Having spent five years myself on the Metropolitan Police Authority (2000-2005) and seen the explosion of the use of these powers – I am delighted with the decision. The powers were never meant to be used, for example, to keep the whole of London covered permanently as it was. This meant that during those years anyone could be stopped without reason. Needless to say that resulted in some communities feeling the effects of the powers disproportionately.

The Home Office website describes it thus:

The court said the powers were drawn too broadly – at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used – and did not have enough safeguards to protect civil liberties. This means that the laws setting out the use of stop and search powers had then to be repealed or amended to bring them in line with European law.

Interim guidance for the police has now been introduced which sets 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.

Police may search only vehicles under section 44 of the law, and then only if they have reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity.

The changes will bring the operation of counter-terrorism use of stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgment, while also ensuring that the public are protected.

Theresa May concluded: ‘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.’


0 thoughts on “Section 44

  1. Oh honestly being lectured on how authoritarian the last government was by someone who is in league with the hang ’em/flog ’em brigade is too nauseating on a hot day like today.

    I don’t disagree with the ECHR but you are quoting as the guardian of our civil liberties the person who voted against equalisation of the age of consent for gay people, who voted against their having adoption rights, didn’t turn up to parliament four times during the passage of the Gender Recognition Act. A person in a leading role in a party whose MP’s screamed at you during parliamentary debate that those who indulged in activity other than heterosexual were “filthy perverts”. Who has not repealed the 28 day detention rule. Who has in her party many who think not being able to tear foxes to bits at the weekend for a jolly is a breach of their civil liberties. Who associate with fascist parties- those huge defenders of civil liberties- in the European arena. And who want to repeal the Human Rights Act!

    Yesterday may have been a reasonable day for civil liberties but every day that you and your new found friends cling to power is a bad day for everything else.

    And all this on the day your barmy policy giving civil liberties for men accused of rape to remain anonymous is confirmed and you mysteriously have diary committments that keep you away from the House. I can only imagine that the reaction you got to that policy on this blog helped to inform your thinking about whether to make yourself scarce.

  2. I am furious with you Lynne for not speaking out against giving anonymity to those accused of rape. You say you are ‘still our MP and will represent us’ and then do a runner. So you have allowed it to happen that when a woman who has been raped is thinking about going to the police she will do so in the knowledge that from the moment she steps into the station her word will so doubted that the State has deemed it necessary to step in and give anyone she names or the police manage to find special protection. And you have stood by and said nothing. What makes you tick? There is nothing in the world that would make me behave as you are behaving. Equalities minster? Cue hollow laughs all round.

  3. A good day for civil liberties but a shameful day for rape victims. The proposal to single out rape complainants is a shocking proposal. Where were you? What will you do on the vote. How can you stay part of a Goverment which infantilises and stigmatises women one day longer? Even Tory women MPs have spoken against this proposal.

  4. Government has a fine line to tread, people must be protected against any type of threat, the police do need to have the time to investigate and if that makes us safer it is a small price to pay

  5. The use of section 44 powers has not proven effective in preventing or detecting acts of terrorism from occurring. Section 44 randomly selects members of the public to be stopped and searched without the need for any objective level of suspicion. Such a policy allows powers to be exercised without the need for good intelligence or effective policing. This ultimately could lead to lazy policing which undermines public safety and security.

    Drawing from experience, I believe that these powers are being exercised based on ethnic, religious and racial profiling which has historically been shown to not only be ineffective in fighting crime, but on many occasions, it has been proven to be counter-productive by alienating and criminalising communities. Examples abound both in this country, with the experiences of the Black and Irish communities respectively, has demonstrated the need for review of counter terrorism legislation.

  6. Section 44 was intended to help catch terrorists. The net result of hundreds of thousands of stops and searches justified by S44 was that not one terrorist was caught. On its own that seems to be a good reason for taking S44 powers away from the police (especially the Met.). Mash Joy hits the nail on the head: S44 drives a wedge between the public and the police.
    Julie P has it wrong. Her comments are typical of the “they must do something for me” school of thinking that impoverished this country. She needs to recognise that the last government opened the till and invited everyone to help themselves, and when it was empty borrowed a fortune to replenish it. Our financial problems are not of this government’s making, and I don’t think any member of the government is actually cheerful about the need to cut costs so we we can repay the debts the most profligate spender of all time ran up. government has a duty not only to the current generation but to those that follow.

  7. Julie P
    No silly assumptions here. You have made a statement asserting, as if it were a given, about the first duty of government. The Coalition government has taken it as a priority that its first duty lies elsewhere: in balancing the books. Your assumption is questionable, because it points up the “gimme” aspecit of British life that has done so much damage. It is arguable that it is the first duty of government to look after the categories you gave. It is everyone’s own first duty to look after themselves. The implication of your words is that the government will always be there to help out. Saying that creates a dependent class which would otherwise not exist.

  8. The use of section 44 powers has not proven effective in preventing or detecting acts of terrorism from occurring. To my own knowledge, there has been absolutely no successful convictions as a response to the execution of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. The European Courts of Human Rights, are reported to have confirmed that section 44 violated the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights. This is because the power is so broad that it fails to provide safeguards against abuse. The Government appealed this and the appeals was reportedly rejected.

    Secondly, the use of section 44 appears to criminalise the very communities whose trust and confidence we require in the fight against terrorism. We need the support of whole communities rather than driving a wedge in public confidence in law enforcement agencies, such as the police and other state agencies.