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Section 44 is no more

HOME SECRETARY Theresa May announced in Parliament on 8 July that police are instructed not to use Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to search people without needing "reasonable suspicion".

The provision had much used to stop those trying to report events on the streets, including photographers, and anyone else who will now be used only to search vehicles, and areas will be "designated" for searches only when "necessary", not when "expedient" as at present.

Her exact announcement was that:

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 searches of vehicles.

The Freelance doesn't think we've quite seen the last of it: we wouldn't be surprised if it was used to search all vehicles in the Olympic Games exclusion area in 2012, for example. There will be a review of counter-terrorism powers and new legislation - eventually.

Please use the policing incident report form to log any relevant events.

Section 44 is a breach of human rights

THE NOTORIOUS Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allowed police to stop and search anyone in London without needing "reasonable suspicion", is definitively a breach of your human rights. London Freelance Branch member Pennie Quinton, who took a case against the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, says "there will be champagne".

Pennie had won a ruling, issued in January, that police using Section 44 and stopping her filming a protest against an arms fair in London's Docklands in September 2003 breached her human rights. Then the UK government referred that ruling to the ECHR Grand Chamber - the equivalent of an appeal. A panel of the Grand Chamber rejected the referral on 30 June - so the ruling stands and Section 44 is definitvely wrong.

Isabella Sankey, director of policy for human rights organisation Liberty, which supported Pennie, told "This appeal was always doomed... The objectionable policy of broad stop and search without suspicion was wrong in principle and has proven divisive and counterproductive in practice."

Wrong though Section 44 may be, it remains on the UK statute book. Barking though any police force that uses it now may appear to you, the Freelance couldn't possibly comment. If a police officer should attempt to use it on you, the advice remains: be nice, take notes.

Photo © Mike Holderness
Pennie Quinton leaving the European Court of Human Rights in May 2009

Last modified: 12 Jul 2010 - © 2010 contributors
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