Stop and search powers 'should be justified'
Published 21/01/2010 | 00:22
An anti-terrorism law used by police to stop and search suspected dissident republicans in Northern Ireland should not be seen as an easy alternative to more traditional methods, a Policing Board report has said.
With nearly 10,000 challenged last year - more than twice the previous year - the human rights annual review said police should ensure the powers used were justified, necessary and proportionate.
Part of the Terrorism Act allows police to act without reasonable suspicion but the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg this month ruled that illegal.
The board's paper said: "The Section 44 authorisation should never be viewed as an easy alternative to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Pace) power; police officers should resist the temptation to resort to Section 44 because he or she need not have reasonable grounds for suspicion."
Police carried out 9,548 stop and searches or questioning in the financial year to March 2009, a huge leap from the 3,234 the previous year.
Human rights adviser Alyson Kirkpatrick will be reporting back to the board later about police use of section 44 given the European Court's ruling that the right to respect for a private and family life was violated by a London case of stop and search.
"As the exercise of the power is predicated upon a lawful authorisation rather than reasonable suspicion this marked departure from the long-established principle that a person could not have his or her freedom interfered with save where there was reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence," her dossier said.
"The power is intrusive by its very nature and therefore police officers must be particularly mindful that it is exercised in a way that is lawful, proportionate and necessary to pursue a legitimate aim."
It is designed to combat a heightened threat and must only be applied where justified, according to the National Policing Improvement Agency.
The Policing Board report said all officers should be briefed on the extent of their power and how it is to be used. They should be reminded that other powers are available and may be appropriate.