Home Secretary announces that she will lift restrictions on the use of stop and search section 60 powers

In May 2022, Priti Patel announced that that she was lifting restrictions on the police’s use of ‘no suspicion’ searches under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (‘CJPOA 1994’).

Details

There are a number of laws which give the police the power to stop and search individuals. The most common powers require the police to have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that the individual has been involved in a crime or is in possession of a prohibited item.

Section 60 of the CJPOA 1994 gives the police the power to stop and search persons in a designated area without ‘reasonable grounds’ in certain circumstances.  These powers are highly controversial and officers cannot use them without specific authorisation.

In 2014, Theresa May put in place the Best Use of Stop and Search (‘BUSS’) Scheme which raised thresholds on the use of section 60 powers. These restrictions were implemented on the basis of concerns that ‘no-suspicion searches could be incompatible with human rights legislation and that they may be counterproductive in tackling serious violence.’

Priti Patel has now announced that she will lift the restrictions put in place under the BUSS Scheme. This will revert the use of section 60 to the lower standards in the original legislation and bring about the following changes:

  • Officers the rank of inspector will now be able to authorise section 60 powers when previously, only senior officers were able to authorise the power;
  • To lengthen the time the powers can be in force for from 15 hours to 24 hours;
  • A superintendent will now be able to extend the time limit the powers are in place for up to 48 hours;
  • Authorising officers will now only need to anticipate that serious violence may rather than will occur; and
  • The police will no longer be required to publicly communicate these authorisations to communities in advance.

Priti Patel has justified the changes on the basis that it will be an effective means to fight knife crime by “making it easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives.”

Commentary

The use of stop and search powers have been criticised for years– most commonly because the data has consistently shown that these powers are being used disproportionately against black and Asian communities in England and Wales. We must also consider that a large number of these stops and searches are being conducted on children and young people. Any decision to extend the use of stop and search must look at the heightened impact being searched will have on young people, particularly when it is felt that these searches may be being carried out on the basis of racial profiling.

The police claim that stop and search is a vital tool in tackling youth violence, yet the data shows that the vast majority of stops find nothing on the person searched. Despite the Home Secretary’s comments, there is very little data to support the assertion that stop and search is effective at addressing knife crime and research conducted by the Home Office has previously found that increasing stop and search had little to no crime-reduction effect.

The impact of searching a child, particularly where nothing is found, can be profound. Perhaps this is best evidenced by the appalling case of Child Q reported in late 2021. Child Q was a Black 15-year-old school girl who was escorted out of an exam hall and strip-searched by officers searching for cannabis. She was menstruating at the time and was made to remove her menstrual pad and spread her buttocks by the officers. Her parents were not contacted and no drugs were found. The teen’s maternal aunt has reported that she has been deeply traumatised by the events and now requires therapy as a result of the encounter.

The Home Secretary’s announcement is extremely worrying as it is very likely to lead to more children and young people being stopped and searched, with black and Asian children being particularly affected. This is especially concerning for section 60 searches where the police will not even need to point to ‘reasonable grounds’ for carrying out a search. We suggest that this will inevitably lead to more children and young people being unjustifiably searched, with no discernible reduction in drug or knife crime.

Police campaigning charity StopWatch have provided the following quote: 

In the year to March 2021, a fifth of section 60 stops involved featured individuals under the age of 18 years of age (1,828 of 9,230). The loosening of safeguards on police use of the power will likely lead to more child searches, but with an annual find rate for weapons that only once was greater than 5% in the last decade, it is highly unlikely it will lead to any significant changes in drug or knife crime.

 

Written by Maeve Keenan, Associate, Kingsley Napley LLP