News story

Changes to police search powers

Theresa May today tells Parliament that the government will change how stop and search powers are used under the Terrorism Act.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The move is in response to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the use of stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 amounted to a  violation of the right to a private life.

The court said the powers were drawn too broadly - at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used - and did not have enough safeguards to protect civil liberties. This means that the laws setting out the use of stop and search powers had then to be repealed or amended to bring them in line with European law. 

Change is needed

The Home Secretary told the House of Commons: ‘I will not allow the continued use of section 44 in contravention of the European Court’s ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of the civil liberties of every one of us.’

She added that the new government had been concerned about the use of section 44 powers ‘for some time’.

Reasonable suspicion

Interim guidance for the police has now been introduced which sets a new suspicion threshold. Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers. Instead they will have to rely on section 43 powers - which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist.

Police may search only vehicles under section 44 of the law, and then only if they have reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity.

Balancing individual rights with protection

The changes will bring the operation of counter-terrorism use of stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgment, while also ensuring that the public are protected.

Theresa May concluded: ‘The first duty of government is to protect the public. But that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties. I believe that the interim proposals I have set out today give the police the support they need and protect those ancient rights.’


Published 8 July 2010