The British government is to review its stop-and-search powers in airports amid claims that Muslims have been discriminated against.
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 will be reviewed by the Home Office after its consultation response showed that members of the public felt they were being targeted at airports.
“Review of the Operation of Schedule 7: A Public consultation” was published this week. 395 participants responded to the consultation and voiced their views towards the decade old policy. The consultation ran between 13 September and December 2012.
Asif Bhayat of human rights organisation CagePrisoners said: “Though we are pleased with the changes to stop and search, we do not think they go far enough. What stop and search has been for black communities, Schedule 7 has been for Muslim communities.”
Schedule 7 is a power that authorises an immigration official, a customs officer or a police officer at any point of entry or exit from the UK to stop, question, search and examine any person for a maximum period of nine hours in order to determine whether they are a terrorist or not.
361 responses were recorded on an online survey and 34 written responses. Most of the online responses were anonymous. 90 per cent of responses were made by individuals and 10 per cent of responses were made on behalf of organisations or groups.
The report stated: “To raise awareness of the consultation we wrote to police forces, legal organisations, industry groups and a wide range of community and faith groups. With the help of the police and local authorities we carried out a series of community engagement events throughout the UK, in Birmingham, Bradford, Gatwick, Manchester, Rotherham, Stirling, Tower Hamlets and Westminster”.
The survey asked people to detail whether they had personal experience of Schedule 7 either as a police officer using the power or as an individual who had either been stopped themselves or knew someone who had been.
173 respondents indicated some personal experience of Schedule 7, 174 indicated no personal experience and 31 respondents preferred not to say.
The respondents who indicated a “personal experience” of Schedule 7, 40 had experience of being examined; 93 as a police officer using or overseeing the use of Schedule 7; 2 as a legal practitioner and 30 as a friend or relative of someone who had been examined.
The respondents who identified themselves as police officers were broadly of the view that Schedule 7 was used “proportionately and professionally”. The report indicated that they were less likely to support the proposal to reduce the maximum period of examination than other groups.
71 per cent of all respondents (275 out of 387) were in favour of reducing the maximum period of examination. Many felt that nine hours was too long and a compromise on reducing this limit needed to be reached. However there were some concerns that a reduction could compromise border security.
49 per cent of respondents replied the maximum period of examination before formal detention should be one hour. 180 were in favour of formal detention after one hour; 46 thought it should be after three hours; 21 thought it should be after six hours and 78 respondents thought that the decision when to detain should be at the discretion of the examining officer.
A number of respondents felt strongly against holding someone for nine hours without suspicion or charge describing it as “excessive, open to abuse, undemocratic and could cause psychological and emotional stress”.
Schedule 7 has been heavily criticised by human rights groups and civil liberties activists because the police behave in an arbitrary way when there is no specific profiling of what a “terrorist” looks like.
Glasgow Central Mosque said: “Schedule 7 can erode the confidence of the ethnic community in the police leading to members becoming more defensive and resistant to compliance. Individuals often feel that the police are insensitive or intimidating.”
A local community group said: “Better explanations should be given to those examined. If someone is stopped but the stop proves to be without substance an apology and compensation for any cost incurred should be given. Issue is important in race relations if stop and search is high among Muslim community.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “There should be no power to detain and question for more than 1 hour unless the Examining Officer can articulate some form of suspicion that the person s/he is questioning is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity. If after 30 minutes of answering questions, the Examining Officer still has no such suspicion it is difficult to see any lawful basis to continue to detain the individual and certainly not to detain for up to 9 hours.”
And Mr Bhayat of Cageprisoners said: “We call on the government to reform Schedule 7 immediately to safeguard community relations and prevent further erosion of this country’s civil liberties standing.”
The full report can viewed on the link provided below: