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European court pulls plugs on terror stop and search

Another clumsy fail for the Home Office

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The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK police's use of stop and search powers granted under terrorism legislation is illegal.

The case was brought by two people who were stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act of 2000 while on their way to an arms fair.

The law grants police the power to search anyone regardless of suspicion. A senior police officer can grant the power for a defined area; this must then be confirmed by the secretary of state within 48 hours.

Since the law was passed in February 2001 there has been a rolling programme of applications and authorisations for the whole of the Metropolitan Police area all of the time.

The court objected on several grounds. It found the searches interfered with the right to a private life and that, unlike airline passengers, people had in no way consented to be searched. It found a lack of basic safeguards in use of the powers - no minister has ever objected or sought to change the terms of such an order.

The court was not impressed with the independent reviewer who has complained since May 2006 that the law is being over-used.

Finally the court objected to the lack of any controls on the individual police officers - they only have to say they had a hunch rather than show reasonable grounds for a search.

In summary the Court found the powers "were neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse".

The court also found from statistics that black and Asian people "were disproportionately affected by the powers".

Between 2004 and 2008 total searches recorded went up from 33,177 to 117,278.

Kevin Gillan, a 32-year old student and Pennie Quinton, a 38-year old reporter and photographer, were on their way to a demonstration at an arms fair being held in Docklands when they were stopped.

The two applicants share €33,850 in costs and expenses.

The verdict is another blow for the Home Office which has had its wrists slapped over the DNA database, prisoners' rights to privacy in recent months.

Policing and Security Minister David Hanson MP said: ”Stop and search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is an important tool in a package of measures in the ongoing fight against terrorism.

”I am disappointed with the ECHR ruling in this case as we won all other challenges in the UK courts, including at the House of Lords. We are considering the judgment and will seek to appeal.” ®

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