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Police stripped of stop and search terror powers in victory for civil liberties
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The controversial use of counter-terrorism stop and search powers will be subjected to stricter conditions, Home Secretary Theresa May said today.
Police will not be allowed to use the powers to stop and search individuals unless they 'reasonably suspect' them of being a terrorist, she said.
The change follows a European Court of Human Rights judgement last month which ruled the power to search people without suspicion under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was illegal.
In a Commons statement Mrs May said: 'The first duty of Government is to protect the public but that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties.'
She told MPs the European Court's judgement found that the use of Section 44 amounted to 'the violation of the right to a private life'.
The court found the powers were 'drawn too broadly at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used' and lacked sufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.
Mrs May said: 'The Government cannot appeal this judgement although we would not have done so had we been able.
'We have always been clear in our concerns about these powers and they will be included as part of our review of counter-terrorism legislation.
'I can therefore tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of Section 44 in contravention of the European Court's ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of our civil liberties.'
The announcement comes just one week after Scotland Yard decided to scale down its use of stopping and searching people without reasonable grounds for suspicion.
Stung by criticism that the practice has alienated ethnic minorities, the Metropolitan Police is changing its policy on when Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 can be employed.
In future its use will be restricted to policing 'iconic' or strategically important sites, such as Buckingham Palace and Parliament, and to specific operations.
In other cases officers will be told to use Section 43 of the Act, which requires them to have reasonable suspicion that the person they are stopping is a terrorist.
The Met increased its use of the Section 44 powers following the car bomb attacks on a nightclub in Haymarket, Central London, and Glasgow Airport in June 2007.
Since October of that year the force has carried out 154,293 stop and searches.
But Government figures released last month showed that black and Asian people were targeted disproportionately.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who took over as the force's anti-terror chief last month, highlighted the concerns in a recent report to the Met Police Authority.
He wrote: 'The power is seen as controversial and has the potential to have a negative impact, particularly on minority communities.'
Setting interim proposals until the Government's full review of counter-terror laws was completed, Mrs May said she would not leave police 'without the powers they need to protect us'.
After taking legal advice and consulting with police forces Mrs May said the authorisation to use Section 44 powers would only be granted if their use was 'necessary' for the prevention of terrorism rather than 'expedient'.
She added: 'Most importantly, I am introducing a new suspicion threshold. Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using Section 44 powers, instead they will have to rely on Section 43 powers which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist.
'Officers will only be able to use Section 44 in relation to the search of vehicles.
'I will only confirm these authorisations where they are considered to be necessary and officers will only be able to use them when they have reasonable suspicion.'
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling came in a case brought by two Londoners who were stopped and questioned by police near an arms fair in the city in 2003.
Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton were stopped and searched on the same day in the area of a Defence Systems and Equipment International Exhibition at the Excel Centre in Docklands, where there had already been protests and demonstrations.
Nothing incriminating was found on either of them and they went to court questioning the legality of stop and search powers.
The High Court and the Court of Appeal said such powers were legitimate, given the risk of terrorism in London, but the Human Rights court disagreed.
Shadow home secretary Alan Johnson said the ECHR's judgment was based on the way the powers were used 'some years ago' and the Labour government and police authorities had 'reviewed and improved' procedures since then.
'The number of stop and searches under Section 44 has reduced considerably over the last two years,' he said.
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