Anti-racism / Policing / Stop and search


Posted on 29 Nov 2021

Legal action by Liberty and StopWatch warned getting rid of vital discrimination safeguards risked being unlawful.

  • Home Secretary rows back on decision to scrap Section 60 stop and search discrimination safeguards
  • Move sparked by legal action from rights groups Liberty and StopWatch
  • Equality impact assessment wasn’t up to scratch, Home Secretary admits

The Home Secretary has rowed back on a decision to ditch safeguards designed to limit discrimination in police use of stop and search powers.

The move followed legal action by Liberty and StopWatch which warned that getting rid of the safeguards risked being unlawful and that Black people were already 18 times more likely than white people to be subjected to ‘suspicionless’ stop and search.

In a letter to Liberty and StopWatch [1] the Home Secretary admitted that the equality impact assessment which informed the decision was inadequate, and that the matter would be reconsidered before any further decision is made over the future of the safeguards.

In July this year the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the decision to scrap the Section 60 (S60) safeguards in the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS). The safeguards were first introduced in 2014 by then Prime Minister Theresa May in a bid to address the high levels of racial disproportionality in stop and search, which is most acute under S60 suspicionless stop and search.

The safeguards were removed from the BUSSS on 27 July 2021. In the legal action Liberty and StopWatch warned that the move to scrap the safeguards was unlawful and sent a worrying message about the Home Secretary’s indifference to systemic police racism, and the very high levels of racial disproportionality in police use of stop and search.

Liberty and StopWatch have called for the S60 BUSSS safeguards to be reinstated with immediate effect, and in the longer term for the use of S60 stop and search to be ended for good.

The groups have also criticised the Government’s drive to expand stop and search powers, with the Home Secretary announcing new powers for police to stop and search protestors, as well as new stop and search powers attaching to individuals under proposed civil Serious Violence Reduction Orders.

Research, including by the College of Policing, has found that S60 stop and searches – which allow officers to stop people and search them for weapons without needing reasonable grounds to suspect they are in possession of one – has no real effect on knife crime, with only 1% of searches resulting in a weapon being found.

Habib Kadiri, StopWatch research and policy manager, said: “StopWatch are glad that the home secretary has decided to do the right thing and halt the permanent relaxation of the section 60 BUSSS safeguards.

“A cursory glance at the evidence on the use of the power shows why restrictions were needed in the first place, and the subsequent drop in annual arrest rates suggests that even the suspension of safeguards should be reversed.

“We will be keeping an eye on what the government plans to do next, with the hope that any assessment will consider the facts of the section 60’s effectiveness over political rhetoric.”

Lana Adamou, Liberty lawyer working on the case, said: “The Home Secretary’s u-turn over the decision to get rid of the safeguards is welcome, as is her admission that the equality impact assessment used to inform it wasn’t up to scratch. Failing to properly consider the equality impacts in the first place is indicative of a Government which is content to cut corners and bypass legal processes at the expense of people’s basic rights. We now need to see the safeguards reinstated for as long as Section 60 remains on the statute book.

“We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the police have consistently shown that they do not use stop and search fairly or proportionately, so giving them even more power isn’t how we get there. Not only are Section 60 stops ineffective at detecting and reducing knife crime, they disproportionately affect people of colour, particularly Black people. Removing the S60 safeguards will worsen existing divisions between police and communities at a time when public trust and confidence in the police is at a serious low.

“Instead of handing the police ever greater powers, the Government should repeal suspicion-less stop and search powers like Section 60. We need community-led interventions through investment in health, education, housing and social welfare – and for those in power to work with communities to develop strategies for keeping all of us safe which have human rights at their heart.”

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