Theresa May promised an urgent review of counter-terrorism measures last month when it was revealed that a Home Office error had led to thousands of illegal stop and searches being performed and for once it seems that the government have acted on advice, albeit only after a final ruling from the European court of human rights on the illegality of section 44 stop and searches.
What does it mean for us though? The upshot is that the police can no longer use section 44 powers to stop and search individuals but they can use them to search vehicles if they have reason to suspect involvement with terrorism. However, if the police have reason to suspect an individual of being a terrorist, they can use section 43 powers to stop and search them. The key words here are ‘reasonable suspicion’ and the previous lack of this as a requirement was what led to widespread criticism that section 44 was being used inappropriately to harrass and intimidate – high profile cases involving photographers, protesters, schoolchildren and even train spotters have been the final nails in the coffin.
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: ‘Liberty welcomes the end of the infamous s.44 stop and search power that criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected. We argued against it for ten years and spent the last seven challenging it all the way to the Court of Human Rights.’ Campaign group I’m A Photographer Not A Terrorist are also delighted and organised a special flashmob to celebrate.
Obviously, it remains to be seen how police will interpret the ‘reasonable suspicion’ caveat, but May’s plans for a full review of all counter-terrorism legislation this summer should provide some clarity. In the meantime, we’re off to photograph the Houses of Parliament.