Police told to discriminate in stop and search - as if Lawrence never happened

16 October 2010

Liberty has warned the Government against draft police guidance that would allow race to be a basis for stop and search without suspicion under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

This proposal flies in the face of recommendations in Sir William Macpherson’s Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence and would also breach the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits race discrimination by public bodies.  Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows for a police officer to stop and search without suspicion in a designated area for a 24 hour period. The suggested amendments to the PACE guidance, which govern the exercise of police powers, state that whilst officers ‘must also take particular care’ not to discriminate, there ‘may be circumstances…where it is appropriate for officers to take account of an individual’s ethnic origin in selecting persons and vehicles to be stopped’ 

These changes also contradict the signal sent by Government plans to revise the controversial and divisive powers of stop and search without suspicion under the section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.  This followed Liberty’s victory in the Court of Human Rights earlier this year in the case of Gillan and Quinton.

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty said:

‘Stopping and searching individuals without suspicion is divisive enough without telling police they can directly discriminate on the grounds of race. Significant progress has been made since the Lawrence Inquiry but the Home Office’s planned changes to PACE will set the clock back and jeopardise race relations in the UK.’

The amendments would also mean that police no longer have to record a ‘stop and account’, when a person is stopped by an officer and asked to account for their presence or actions. The requirement for police officers to record details of all stops, including the self-defined ethnicity of the person, was recommended in the Macpherson Report with the intention of improving accountability and safeguarding minority ethnic communities from institutionalised racism.

Contact: Liberty’s press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128

Notes to Editors

1. The consultation on amending PACE Codes has not been published on the Home Office website and was only made available to certain interested organisations.

2. The proposed changes will alter the binding Guidance issued to police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 [PACE], which governs the use of police officer’s discretionary powers. The Guidance which specifically applies to stopping and searching members of the public is set out in PACE Code A.

3. The report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry can be accessed here: http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm42/4262/4262.htm  The recommendations on ethnic monitoring read as follow:

4. That the Home Secretary, in consultation with Police Services, should ensure that a record is made by police officers of all "stops" and "stops and searches" made under any legislative provision (not just the Police and Criminal Evidence Act). Non-statutory or so called "voluntary" stops must also be recorded. The record to include the reason for the stop, the outcome, and the self-defined ethnic identity of the person stopped. A copy of the record shall be given to the person stopped.

5. That these records should be monitored and analysed by Police Services and Police Authorities, and reviewed by HMIC on inspections. The information and analysis should be published.

6. Police officers often ask individuals to stop and account for their presence or actions. Ethnicity monitoring of these types of stops is important as it reveals any patterns of disproportionate targeting of minorities. As of January 2009, the forms for ‘stop and account’ were scrapped to reduce the burden on police time, following on from a recommendation from Sir Ronnie Flanagan that officers provide a ‘receipt’ instead. The Flanagan report recommended that the self-defined ethnicity of the person stopped should continue to be recorded (see http://www.polfed.org/Review_of_Policing_Final_Report.pdf ).  Liberty did not oppose changes to scrap the stop form as a record was still to be made and ethnicity monitoring was to continue. Liberty believes that removing the requirement for any record to be made could seriously undermine accountability and community trust and confidence. More information is available here: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/about-us/home-office-circulars/circulars-2008/032-2008/  
7. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows for stop and search without suspicion. This power is similar to s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, as geographic areas can be designated for stop and search without suspicion on the basis of ‘expediency’. Liberty believes this power is already overly broad and open to challenge on the grounds that it is inconsistent with Article 8 (respect for privacy) of the Human Rights Act 1998. Inserting a direction that officers may take a person’s ethnicity into account in deciding whether to stop them would, in Liberty’s view, clearly breach Article 14 (non discrimination) of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010 and make the powers unlawful.

8. Section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct discrimination in the discharge of public functions. The Equality Act consolidated a number of anti-discrimination laws including the Race Relations Act 1976 which previously included the prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of race.