Terrorism stops are not futile but should be used appropriately and sensibly

The news that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that police stops and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act are illegal and contravene the rights of those stopped has prompted an interesting post on Left Foot Forward by Andy Hull who worked with me on the MPA report, “Counter Terrorism: The London Debate“.

I agree with most of what Andy Hull has written, but I don’t however accept that Section 44 stops are futile.  They play an important part in target-hardening.  If potential terrorists know that they run a substantial risk of being stopped by the police and searched near a particular target, then that target is a less attractive one and the risks are reduced.

However, in the past, Section 44 powers have been used much too widely with very large areas being designated by the police and approved by successive Home Secretaries.  Following the MPA report and subsequent debate, the Metropolitan Police have radically revised the way in which they use the power with a much more rigorous approach being taken as to which areas are designated for the use of Section 44 stops.  A lot of effort has also gone into the guidance given to officers on the use of the power and the manner in which stops are conducted.

Although the grounds of the ECHR ruling are much broader I do wonder whether the position taken by the Court would have been quite so clear had the new approach applied when the incident that led to the case took place.

The Government are now considering an appeal and in the meantime the existing regime of Section 44 stops remains in force.

My experience is that most members of the public find it a reassurance that the power exists and is used and that this is true even if they are the subject of the stop, provided that the context is explained and the stop is conducted with a degree of respect.

Of course, demonstrating that attacks have been deterred is necessarily difficult to do.  However, my own guess is that most people would feel that the interference in their rights by there being a possibility of being stopped and searched in areas near to potential terrorist targets is  a small price to pay if it prevents them being blown up.  The right to life works both ways after all.

10 thoughts on “Terrorism stops are not futile but should be used appropriately and sensibly”

  1. We have divergent experiences of the police then L.T.H. When I was in Brixton ’81 and ’85 stop and search was unpopular.

  2. It was very unpopular in 1981 and 1985 and not just in Brixton! That of course was before the Metropolitan Police Authority took over responsibility for the Met in 2000 and started the process which led to a radically different approach to (non-terrorist) stops and searches and also pre-dates the Terrorism Act and the developments I have referred to.

    The principle now is that there should be local consultation and local buy-in to the policy on stop and search, proper monitoring and a more respectful attitude by officers.

  3. My Lord (Toby, how does one address you?) Thank you for your reply. As a part of the MPA I expect you to be upbeat but in many parts of London and the U.K the police are at best tolerated and generally not accepted.

  4. > My experience is that most members of the public find it a reassurance that the power exists and is used and that this is true even if they are the subject of the stop, provided that the context is explained and the stop is conducted with a degree of respect.

    Some members of the public were so concerned by the use of these powers that they even felt compelled to come to the MPA to ask questions about it. Read more at http://gizmonaut.net/bits/suspect.html#D20060525

    > The principle now is that there should be local consultation and local buy-in to the policy on stop and search, proper monitoring and a more respectful attitude by officers.

    Does that mean that the MPA is now monitoring TA2000 stop and searches? When I met John Roberts at the time, he explained that the MPA was indeed monitoring PACE stops and searches but not those conducted under the TA2000. Details at http://gizmonaut.net/bits/suspect.html#D20060622

  5. Boxted: I think the late Noble Lord Hailsham required those who entered his presence – let alone addressed his noble Lordship on His blog – to “Neil!” The mouse is OK I find, but keyboard awkward and monitor cricks my neck.

    http://www.snopes.com/embarrass/mistaken/kneel.asp

    The police have received variable welcomes in various communities since the Bow St Runners were formed. One of the reasons is that some people expect to be caught.

  6. Look, you can call me what you like – most people do. I am quite relaxed about it. I will call you Ron if you want to call me Toby.

  7. My real first name is not Ron but it will do. I do not usually get a chance to chat to the aristocracy thus my etiquette is rusty.

  8. > there is now some monitoring of S44 stops.

    This is a good news. Can you include a pointer to where the level of monitoring is described in more details and what findings have been published so far?

    (Some of the August 2009 documents published on http://www.mpa.gov.uk/scrutinies/stop-search/ mention s44 but still give the impression it may be looked into every now and then as a one-off, i.e. not to the same level of scrutiny as the PACE stop and searches.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *