Thursday, 14 June 2012

Time To Abolish Section 60 Stop And Search Powers

This year, police forces around the country have started to scale back on its use of powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This was originally introduced to tackle football hooliganism and the threat of serious violence and could only be authorised by officers at Superintendent level and above. Stop and searches under section 60 have been an issue of considerable concern because they do not require ‘reasonable suspicion’ that an individual is about to commit a crime or is carrying a weapon. Just being in an area covered by a section 60 authorisation is enough for officers to conduct a stop and search.

The reason for the reduction of section 60 stops and searches was revealed in January 2012 in a leaked letter from new deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Craig Mackey to senior colleagues, which highlighted police fears of a successful challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. Senior officers were aware that as well as the questionable legality of the lack of a requirement for reasonable suspicion by officers, there has long been evidence that section 60 is open to severe and disproportionate misuse (just like section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was suspended by the government in 2010 after a successful judicial review). The power appears particularly prone to allegations of 'racial profiling'.

This week we saw the most up to date figures demonstrating the extent of that evidence of misuse, with data published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This showed that the Metropolitan police carried out the highest number of section 60 stops and searches between 2008-11, with over 258,000 in total (three-quarters of the total for all forces in England). The use of the power in London and across the country has gradually decreased since 2008, but the EHRC data shows that nationally in 2010-11, black people remained 37 times more likely to be stopped and searched under section 60 than white people. It also found that in England, the percentage of ethnic minorities stopped and searched actually rose from 51% of the total in 2008-09 to 64% 2010-11. Despite the overall fall in section 60 stops, racial disproportionality grew within the Metropolitan Police (from 9.7 to 11.1 times greater for black people and 3.3 to 4.5 times greater for Asians between 2008 and 2011). The worst figures were for the West Midlands, where the rate rose from from 23 times more likely that a black person was stopped in 2008-9 to 28 times greater in 2010-11.

These statistics are only for section 60 – they do not include other stop and search powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence (which have their own problems over misuse). What the EHRC data also shows is how crudely ineffective section 60 powers are: only 2.8% resulted in an arrest in 2008/09 and this decreased to 2.3% in 2010/11. Fewer than one in five arrests were for offensive weapons. Section 60 authorisations were never intended to be used so widely or so often when they were introduced and their growth is an example of a new power that has become more and more of a blunt instrument as its use has become more commonplace.

Soon after his appointment, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe acknowledged that police stop and search powers should in future be used in a more targeted way. Changes to the use of these powers would, he said, be introduced by December 2011. He told the now disbanded Metropolitan Police Authority:
"We need to move away from searching in an area to searching for a person, and stop targeting the people who don't need to be targeted."
However, whilst figures may be falling, there is still little evidence from the EHRC research to suggest that officers have stopped targeting areas where there is a higher ethnic minority population or that they are instead acting on credible intelligence. If Hogan-Howe is serious about changing stop and search policy and avoiding further legal embarrassment, he should do with section 60 what he did with the temporary replacement for the discredited section 44 anti-terrorism power – stop using it completely. Meanwhile, its ineffectiveness and its tendency to result in misuse against black communities means that campaigners will continue to press for the only sensible reform possible – the abolition of section 60 altogether.

Be the first to comment

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.