UK: powers under section 44 of the Terrorism act used in error and review of terror detention laws

The Home Office recently alerted the police forces to the fact that powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act were used in “error” after the proper authorisations were not given.  Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows police to stop and search someone without suspicion that an offence has occurred. The controversial powers can be used only in specific areas on the orders of a police chief, with later approval by the home secretary. Thousands of people across the UK might have been stopped and searched illegally, figures released by the Home Office suggest.

In one example, for April 2004, the Met Police wrongly stopped 840 people.

Police Minister Nick Herbert said administrative errors were to blame and he has ordered an internal review of procedures. The Metropolitan Police is also urgently considering what steps can be taken to contact the individuals concerned.

Another criticism that is raised, including by the government’s reviewer of terror legislation, Lord Carlile, is that powers under Section 44 unfairly target some ethnic groups and increase community tensions. Similarly, earlier this week, The Guardian reported that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, released a  report in which she warned that the blanket treatment by staff of the 10,300 Muslim prisoners in England and Wales as potential terrorists ( despite the fact that fewer than 1% are in prison for terrorist-related offences) risks creating young men ready to embrace extremism on their release.

Meantime, Government ministers are poised to reconsider powers to detain terrorist suspects without charge for up to 28 days. Senior civil servants will make several recommendations on the future of the controversial measure within weeks. MPs must debate and vote on whether to renew the four-week limit before Parliament rises for a summer break at the end of July.

A review is under way and ministers will be given several options, including dropping the 28 day limit and returning to a maximum of two weeks.

The decision of the coalition Government will be an illuminating test of its approach to balancing national security against civil liberties.

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One Response

  1. […] Home Secretary has already announced an “urgent review” of the powers after the recent admission by the Home Office that thousands of individual searches had been conducted illegally. The […]

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