Police use of Section 44 Stop and Search anti-terrorism powers has been ruled ‘illegal’ by a European court.

The controversial law, which allows police officers to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion, has been heavily criticised by many, including photographers.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that police powers to stop and search have ‘not been curbed by adequate legal safeguards so as to offer the individual adequate protection against arbitrary interference,’ according to reports that first appeared in The Guardian and on BBC News Online.

The ruling, a copy of which has been seen by Amateur Photographer, adds: ‘Of still further concern was the breadth of the discretion conferred [by powers under the Terrorism Act 2000] on the individual police officer. The officer’s decision to stop and search an individual was one based exclusively on the “hunch” or “professional intuition”. Not only was it unnecessary for him to demonstrate the existence of any reasonable suspicion; he was not required even subjectively to suspect anything about the person stopped and searched. The sole proviso was that the search had to be for the purpose of looking for articles which could be used in connection with terrorism, a very wide category… covering many articles commonly carried by people in the streets.’

The court said it was ‘struck by the statistical and other evidence showing the extent to which police officers resorted to the powers of stop and search under Section 44 of the Act and found that there was a clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion to the police officer’.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had been hearing a case involving Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton who were stopped outside the Defence Systems and Equipment International Exhibition in London in 2003.

Quinton had reportedly been filming a protest outside the exhibition, which took place in Docklands.

The court ruled that their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated.

The ruling – which is available to read online – states that in 2006 the House of Lords dismissed an application the pair had made for a judicial review concerning the actions of the Metropolitan Police.

On 26 January 2005, they lodged a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights.


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