Scrap British police 'stop and search' power

Passed in 2000, the law allows British police to stop and search anyone in London without giving a reason.

Luke MacGregor/Reuters
A demonstrator last week gestured at police during an English Defence League (EDL) protest march in London. British law gives police the power to stop and search anyone in the city without giving a reason.

Lord Carlisle of Berriew, Britain's one-man watchdog snapping at the heels of anti-terrorist legislation, has called on the government's stop and search system to be scrapped because it is poisoning relations between the police and the public. Like the system of criminal records checks which treats every parent helping out with school activities as a paedophile, it should go.

The present stop and search system was introduced under the Terrorism Act 2000. It gave the police powers to stop and search people, without having to give reasons, in areas specified by ministers. You might have thought the idea was to stop people with rucksacks who were eyeing up nuclear power stations or water treatment plants. But within weeks of the Act being passed, ministers declared the whole of London a stop and search area. So police can now stop anyone anywhere the metropolis, at any time, with no reason. As indeed, they do.

Of course, the bureaucratic mentality makes it worse, because in order to prove that they are not discriminating against particular groups, the police have to fill out yellow forms with your name, address, sex, height, race and much more on it. The result is that what ought to be a friendly enquiry ('You've been standing outside this government office quite a time, sir, can I ask your purpose?' 'Oh, simple as that, eh?' Very good, sir, thank you, have a nice day.') into something adversarial – and where the police have all the muscle: refuse to give your details or tell them not to be so daft and boil their heads, and you will be arrested. No wonder that the public now see the police not as their servants and protectors, but as agents of a bully state.

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