Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Great Repeal Bill wish list 3: Section 44 Police Powers

In the last 13 years, parliament has passed a lot of acts dealing with the threat of terrorism. The first of these was the Terrorism Act 2000. Section 44 of of the said Act, which gave police powers to stop and search people who might be involved in terrorist activity, has proved to be the most controversial, because it gave them the power to randomly stop someone without reasonable suspicion, providing the area has been designated a likely target for an attack.

The uses that these police have found for these powers have been many and varied.

There was the detention of Walter Wolfgang. Mr Wolfgang was ejected from the 2005 Labour Party Conference for heckling, and when he attempted to re-enter the conference, he was detained and held by the police under Section 44 powers.

Then there was Phil Smith. Mr Smith was planning to take some pictures at the turning on of the Christmas lights in Ipswich. He was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera. After explaining he didn't need one, he was taken down a side-street for a formal "stop and search", then asked to delete the photos and ordered not take any more.

And of course there are the train spotters. Last year Mr. Norman Baker, who is now Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Transport, discovered that Section 44 powers had been used to stop 62,584 people at railway stations. At the time he commented “The anti-terror laws allow officers to stop people for taking photographs and I know this has led to innocent trainspotters being stopped. This is an abuse of anti-terrorism powers and a worrying sign that we are sliding towards a police state.”

I know of no evidence that Section 44 is actually necessary. The police would probably claim that it is, but I’m not sure why I should believe them. The evidence I see suggests that while the police like to have these powers, they are simply not able to use them properly - and are regularly using them improperly.

So Mr. Clegg, please repeal Sections 44 to 47 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They aren't necessary, and they are taking away our freedom.

Correction: Mr Phil Smith was not actually stopped under Section 44. He was stopped for "unauthorised photography." (I bet you didn't know that the police in this country can stop you from taking pictures of Christmas lights on the grounds that you are "unauthorised".) Other photographers, however, have been stopped under Section 44 powers.

10 comments:

Albert said...

Quite, and even if these powers did have some effect on terrorism, we might still prefer to keep the freedoms and run the risk. After all, the last time the nation was asked the question, during WWII, most people felt they would sooner run the risk of losing their lives, in order to retain national and individual freedom.

Young Mr. Brown said...

"...the last time the nation was asked the question, during WWII...."

I'll have to plead ignorance on that one, Albert. Please enlighten me about the question that the nation was asked during WWII.

Albert said...

You don't think the nation was behind the war effort?

Young Mr. Brown said...

Ah. You'll have to pardon my denseness.

indigomyth said...

Albert,
//even if these powers did have some effect on terrorism, we might still prefer to keep the freedoms and run the risk. //

Well exactly. I see little point in giving a strong defence against terrorism, only to turn the nation into the very thing that we are fighting - an authoritarian and violent state.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Well put, indigomyth. I wish I'd written that!

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