Law enforcementU.K. to scale back stop-and-detain policies

Published 18 September 2012

U.K. police and special branch officers have stopped about 70,000 people as they traveled through the United Kingdom by train, airplane, or ship; they were stopped – and some were detained for further questioning – under the under the Terrorism Act 2000; those detained have no right to a free legal advice from a public defender, cannot refuse to answer question (refusal is a criminal offense), and cannot object to strip-searches or DNA collection; critics charge the implementation of the act has been discriminatory toward minorities, and the Home Office said it would review the act with an eye to scaling it back

An official consultation was launchedlast week on the future of Britain’s random stop-and detain powers, which is being used by police special branch officers to question the 70,000 travelers which go through Britain’s trains, air, and sea ports.

The Guardian reports that Home Secretary Theresa May initiated the consultation after criticism from Britain’s own official terror watchdog as well as Muslim communities. Critics say that that people of Asian descent are forty-two times more likely than white people to be targeted for the random counter-terrorism interrogations.

Schedule 7 of the U.K. Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police and immigration officers to detain anyone traveling on an airline, ferry, or trains to be held for up to nine hours to determine whether they are involved in terrorism or a potential terrorism act.

Travelers can be targeted and stopped by the special branch without reasonable suspicion that they are involved in a crime or terrorist activity. People who are stopped have almost no rights as they do not have a right for free legal advice by a public defender. Also, failure to respond to any question put them by interrogators is itself a criminal offense. The person also has no right to object to a strip-searched or to the collection of DNA samples from their body.

The official reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, thinks this has an extremely negative impact on the Muslim community. Anderson has described the effect on the community as “bubbling under the surface…eroding trust.”

According to the Home Office, the number of people stopped has dropped from 87,218 in 2009-10 to 69,109 in 2011-12. About 60 percent of people who were stopped came from a minority background — 29 percent were Asian or British Asian, and 45 percent of these people were detained. Another 47 percent of those detained were black, Chinese, or another non-white background. Only 8 percent were white.

Of those stopped, 2,240 people were held for more than an hour in the last year and 691 were detained, nearly all of whom had DNA samples taken from them.

Only forty-two people have been held for more than six hours since the stop-and-detain program began.

According to the Home Office, the program did see some success as it directly led to about twenty prosecutions a year from 2005 to 2009, and key individuals in various terrorist groups were convicted as a direct result of a port stop.

May said the use of schedule 7 counter-terrorism powers were a significant part of border security, keeping the country safe and free of those traveling across borders to plan, finance, train, and commit acts of terrorism.

Examining people at ports and airports is necessary to protect public safety, but we want to ensure these powers are used proportionately, and are effective. This consultation seeks the views of the public to help ensure we get this right,” May told the Guardian.