Stop and search

Section 60

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows a police officer to stop and search a person without suspicion.

Section 60 stops and searches can take place in an area which has been authorised by a senior police officer on the basis of their reasonable belief that violence has or is about to occur, and where it is expedient to prevent it or search people for a weapon if one was involved in the incident.

Section 60 is a broadly framed and indiscriminate policing tool. Following the finding that section 44 of the Terrorism Act was unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights (see below), it was suspended, and the use of section 60 dramatically increased.

Unfortunately it was soon uncovered that the power was being deployed in a similarly discriminatory way. Statistics clearly showed you were far more likely to be stopped and searched under section 60 if you were Black or Asian.

Overly broad stop and search without suspicion powers cause huge problems for the communities where they are used. Overuse of these powers also impacts on the relationship between the community and the police. The detrimental and counterproductive impact of section 60 searches has recently begun to be recognised.

In December 2011 the Home Secretary announced that stop and search powers would be reviewed in light of findings that disproportionate use of the power contributed to the riots earlier that year. And in January 2012 the Metropolitan Police announced it would significantly scale back its section 60 stops and searches.

Changes to section 44 of the Terrorism Act

Section 44 was a stop and search without suspicion power which was even broader than section 60. It allowed for a wide geographical area to be designated - by authorisation by an assistant chief constable - as one where people and vehicles could be stopped and searched at any time.

The legislation was so broadly drawn that authorisations were made on a rolling basis since their introduction in 2001. For ten years all of Greater London was designated as an area in which anyone could be stopped and searched without suspicion.

Just like section 60, section 44 was used predominantly against young Black and Asian men. It was also captured peaceful protesters. In early 2010, Liberty won a landmark legal case before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that section 44 was unlawful. In Gillan and Quinton v UK, the Court ruled that section 44 violated the right to respect for private life because the power was so broad it failed to provide safeguards against abuse.

In 2010 the Home Office Counter-Terrorism Review concluded that section 44 should be repealed. In May 2012, the provision was repealed and replaced in the Protection of Freedoms Act. The replacement power is a significant improvement. It allows a senior police officer to authorise an area for stop and search without suspicion in a specified area where she or he reasonably suspects an act of terrorism is about to occur.

With tougher time limits and other safeguards aiming to ensure the power is only used in genuine emergencies, Liberty welcomed these changes.