by: Marc Vallée | Comment is free
published: 27 April 2012
In March last year the home secretary, Theresa May, used a fast-track parliamentary procedure to rush through emergency anti-terrorist stop-and-search powers. Section 47a of the Terrorism Act replaced the act’s highly controversial section 44, ruled unlawful by the European court of human rights after a decade of use which saw the police carry out hundreds of thousands of arbitrary stop and searches in the name of anti-terrorism.
In 2009-10, not a single one of the 101,248 section 44 searches led to a terror-related arrest.
May’s 47a replacement power allows senior police officers to seek authorisation from the Home Office to do searches in a particular area if the officer “reasonably suspects that an act of terrorism will take place”. If granted, police can stop anyone without any reasonable suspicion of anything. To most that sounded like section 44 all over again.
Defending the emergency power, May said she had decided that police did need the new powers, “given the current threat environment”. I debated this with Chief Constable Andy Trotter, chair of Acpo’s media advisory group, on the Today programme. Under the watchful eye of John Humphrys we agreed to disagree.