UK: Terrorism Search Power Violates Rights

The new UK coalition government should repeal an abusive counterterrorism power that has led to hundreds of thousands of people being stopped and searched without reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 64-page report, " Without Suspicion: Stop and Search under the Terrorism Act 2000," examines the use of the stop-and-search power under section 44 of the act. The power is intended to prevent terrorism. But despite almost 450,000 section 44 stops and searches throughout the United Kingdom between April 2007 and April 2009, no one was successfully prosecuted for a terrorism offense as a result.

The new government pledged on June 10, 2010, to re-evaluate the power as part of an ongoing review of counterterrorism legislation after it acknowledged that prior to 2008, police in London and elsewhere had carried out hundreds – and possibly thousands – of these searches without proper authorization. On June 29, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a final appeal by the UK against a ruling by the court in January 2010 that the use of the power violates the right to privacy.

"The case for scrapping this stop-and-search power is overwhelming" said Benjamin Ward, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, "The benefits are dubious but the costs for human rights and community relations are easy to see."

The use of the stop-and-search power has ballooned since 2007. In England, Scotland, and Wales, the number of recorded stops rose almost sevenfold in just two years – from 37,000 in the year ending April 2007 to over 256,000 for the year ending April 2009.

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