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Government’s stop and search appeal blocked by Europe

2 July 2010

Human rights judges have refused to reconsider their verdict that British stop-and-search legislation violated the right to privacy.

Rejecting the government’s application for a final appeal before the Grand Chamber, the European Court of Human Rights is now considering what remedies it should instruct the Home Office to undertake to resolve its breach of the convention.

The January judgment in the case of Gillan and Quinton v UK (4158/05 [2010] ECHR 28), which held that the police power to stop and search citizens without suspicion under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, will now form the court’s final decision on the matter.

Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty said: “This appeal was always doomed. The objectionable policy of broad stop and search without suspicion was wrong in principle and has proven divisive and counterproductive in practice. The Great Repeal Bill promised by the new government provides the perfect opportunity for the UK finally to comply with this common sense judgment.”

The case sprung from the demonstrations at an arms fair in the Docklands area of east London in 2003.

Pennie Quinton and Kevin Gillan were among the protestors barred from attending the rally after being stopped and searched by police. Represented by Ben Emmerson QC of Matrix chambers, the pair argued that the legislation breached their right to respect for private life.

Section 44 allows undefined areas to be designated for stop and search without suspicion and is the same power used to eject holocaust survivor Walter Wolfgang from the 2005 Labour Party conference.

Both applicants complained to the courts but the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled that the exercise of their powers by the police were legitimate given the nature of the terrorist threat against the UK. The applicants’ appeals were unanimously dismissed by the House of Lords.

Under the 2000 Act a senior police officer may issue an authorisation for police officers to carry out stop and search in a designated area if he or she considered it “expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism”. The search can be carried out by a constable in a public place regardless of whether he or she has any grounds for suspicion.

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