South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

'PSNI must suspend use of stop and search powers' (March 2010)

On the 12th of January the The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the power to stop and search people under section 44 of the British government's Terrorism Act was a violation of the human right "to respect for private life". These stops are carried out arbitrarily - without any grounds for suspicion.

Despite this ruling the British government has refused to repeal or suspend the legislation and has said it plans to appeal against the ruling.

My Party colleague and fellow Policing Board member Daithí McKay has already pointed out that the most recent figures available form the PSNI on the powers back up the ECHR's ruling's finding that the so-called anti-terror legislation was being abused by police, and used in an arbitrary and discriminatory way. These most recent statistics show that South and East Belfast ranks second highest of all areas in the North for use of these powers by the PSNI.

These latest quarterly figures publicly available, from July to September last year show three key findings:

*There was a dramatic jump in the usage of s44, with figures more than doubling from the previous quarter. From July to September last year, 10,265 people were stopped and searched under S44 in the North.

*Stop and search powers continue to be invoked a vastly disproportionate number of times in nationalist areas. The constituency with the highest number of people stopped and searched during the July-September quarter was Foyle, with 2,203. While S44 stop and search powers were used 1,305 times in Strabane during the quarter, they were used only once in Larne, a town of around equal population.

*The use of stop and search continues to be demonstrably ineffective by the PSNI's own criteria. Of the more than 10,000 people stopped and searched during the quarter, only 39 were subsequently arrested.

The use of these powers has been highly controversial in England also and in July last year the London Metropolitan Police force announced it was refining and limiting its use of S44 powers following a review. The police force in Hampshire, England, said it was suspending its use of the powers the same month, citing the fact that no arrests were made despite more than 3,000 searches being carried out.

Here in the North of Ireland the problems in the use of such police powers were compounded by the fact that there is a long history here of such powers being abused for political repression.

The legacy of all of this is that the use and abuse of such powers amounts to political policing and damages the credibility of police forces that use them as well as community relations,

The reality is that the PSNI already have adequate powers to carry out stops and searches and deal with crime without having to resort to the use of what they term 'Terrorism' legislation.

People in the North want a police service that will deal robustly with serious issues affecting their daily lives such as drugs and criminality in our communities. They want to see effective, civic and accountable policing, and the use of Section 44 powers by the PSNI seriously undermines this.

The PSNI should now suspend its use of Section 44 in light of these facts and the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that it is incompatible with Convention rights. The continued use of this legislation is a flagrant abuse of human rights.