Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000

I'm sorry if this is slightly off-topic, but civil liberties are a particular concern of mine - as I hope they are for most journalists.

I catch the train to work each day, and this morning when I reached my local, suburban train station (railway station, if you prefer), I was surprised to see a number of police officers present, searching the bags of some of the people waiting for a train. All of the people they had stopped were either schoolgirls or young female commuters.

I didn't speak to any of the police officers - and none of them stopped me - but I did notice that at least one of them was carrying a bundle of leaflets entitled 'Terrorism Act' and subtitled 'Section 44'. I meant to Google this when I got to work but promptly forgot about it until I received an email from my girfriend saying that she had been stopped and searched at the same train station earlier that morning (we catch different trains).

I then did Google 'Terrorism Act' and 'Section 44', which took me to a page on the Liberty website explaining that:

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to stop and search anyone in a specific area.

Before Section 44, the police could only stop and search individuals if they had 'reasonable grounds' and certain criteria were met. That is no longer necessary, and we have seen Section 44 powers used against anti-war, anti-weapons and anti-capitalist protestors.

The power to stop and search under anti-terrorism powers should only be used when there is evidence of a specific terrorist threat.

I cannot be certain that there wasn't a "specific terrorist threat" in my London suburb this morning, but I find the notion surprising. And if there was a specific terrorist threat, the actions of the police would suggest that it was posed by female commuters and schoolgirls as young as (I guess) 13 and 14.

I find it much more likely that the police were searching perhaps for knives and other weapons - teenagers carrying knives being the media scare story of the moment here in the UK. If so (and I have no real evidence either way), it would be an abuse of the Terrorism Act. What do you think?

Update 02/04/2009: Gez from Grammar Blog was stopped and searched at Clapham Junction under Section 44 recently. I recommend his blog post regarding A response from Wandsworth Police.

Update 11/04/2009: And here's a photo of a policeman stopping someone at my local station under Section 44 on another occasion:


Editrix said...

I hate to say this, but I'm not surprised it's happening. The only thing that's surprising to me is that police officers haven't started doing it in the States yet.

Anonymous said...

Sounds appalling, and I'd like to know if you're planning to follow this up in any way.

I don't think there's ever any excuse for random stop and search powers: they're always abused in the end, and last time the police had them in London, it led directly to riots. Many members of the black community are bitterly opposed to this sort of initiative, with good reason.

The current media scare about knife crime is just that: a media scare. The scale of the issue is still far too low to justify the attention it receives, and it's very much being used as an excuse for initiatives such as that which you saw this morning.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Well, Liberty does have a 'search monitoring form' but it's not my decision as I wasn't the one who was searched.

I would however recommend the Liberty website to anyone who wants to know what their rights are under the terrorism legislation - for example you are allowed to 'passively resist' (ie go limp) during a stop and search.

I am quite tempted to join Liberty actually.

Anonymous said...

No wonder people have little time for the police when they use section 44 powers as an easy way of meeting tragets. Lazy filth!

Anonymous said...

I was stopped and questioned on Sunday for taking photos of graffiti on the South Bank -- the officers quoted Section 44 of the Terrorist Legislation of 2000 - but it is important to note that one is not required to give name or provide identification when questioned. I refused as I did not want my name put on a list of possible terrorist suspects.