This oral statement was made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mrs Theresa May, in the House of Commons on 8 July 2010 at 12.18.
Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
On Wednesday last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that its judgment in the case of Gillan and Quinton is final. This judgment found that the stop and search powers granted under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 amount to the violation of the right to a private life. The court found that the powers are drawn too broadly–at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used. It also found that the powers contain insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.
The government cannot appeal this judgment, although we would not have done so had we been able. We have always been clear in our concerns about these powers, and they will be included as part of our review of counter-terrorism legislation.
I can, therefore, tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of section 44 in contravention of the European Court’s ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of our civil liberties. But neither will I leave the police without the powers they need to protect us.
I have sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces. In order to comply with the judgment–but to avoid pre-empting the review of counter-terrorism legislation–I have decided to introduce interim guidelines for the police. The test for authorisation for the use of section 44 powers is, therefore, being changed from requiring a search to be “expedient” for the prevention of terrorism, to the stricter test of its being ‘necessary’ for that purpose; and, most importantly, I am introducing 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. And officers will only be able to use section 44 in relation to searches of vehicles. I will only confirm these authorisations where they are considered to be necessary, and officers will only be able to use them when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’.
These interim measures will bring section 44 stop-and-search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgment. They will provide operational clarity for the police. And they will last until we have completed our review of counter-terrorism laws and taken any relevant action arising from that review.
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. I commend the statement to the House.