Advocacy group CAGE has called for the repeal of the Schedule 7 law, which allows the authorities to interrogate, search and detain people for up to six hours at UK borders to determine if they are involved in terrorism.
In a new report, CAGE describes Schedule 7 as “an affront to the principle of the rule of law” and “detrimental to trust between society and state. It also says statistics support the fact that Schedule 7 stops are based on religious and racial profiling.
Under Schedule 7, if stopped, you are legally obliged to answer all questions asked by an examining officer; to submit (if asked) to a search of your person and your luggage; to provide your fingerprints, your DNA and consent to photographs being taken of you; and to surrender any electronic devices on your person – as well as the passwords to those devices. Any belongings seized may also be retained by police for up to seven days.
In 2014, a team of students at Cambridge University – named Operation Insight – found that 88% of its sample of those stopped under Schedule 7 at a particular airport were Muslim.
Of the 419,000 people stopped under Schedule 7 since 2009, only 30 have been convicted. Most recently, despite stopping over 11,000 people in the year to March 2019, only three convictions were secured. This means that the conviction rate for Schedule 7 stops from 2009 to 2019 (the only years for which the necessary figures are available) is a mere 0.007%.
CAGE said: “The failure of the government to publish statistics on the religious affiliation of those stopped under Schedule 7 has only increased the volume of the accusations that it is being used predominantly, and deliberately against the Muslim community.
“However, and equally troubling, is the abuse of Schedule 7 as an intimidatory and intelligence gathering tactic against activists more broadly. This fits within a wider trend of the improper use of counter-terrorism legislation and the notion of ‘domestic extremism’ that criminalises activism.”
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The report says it demonstrates clearly that Schedule 7 disregards the norms of due process at every level.
“Normative criminal law safeguards are discarded under a Schedule 7 stop, permitting and justifying systematic abuses against individuals including ordinary Muslims, journalists, aid workers, and lawyers. As a result, it is deeply counter- productive,” the report states.
“Key to this is that the stop is done without any evidence or need for suspicion, and as such it violates international privacy norms and laws, since any person – including a child – can be stopped on the basis of what police officers have admitted can simply be a ‘hunch’. There is also no way an individual can ever challenge this process or remove their information from the system.”
The report calls for:
- Members of the different organs of the state to repeal the Schedule 7 law
- Members of civil society and activist groups to use the report as a basis for increased demands to repeal Schedule 7
- The Muslim community to use the report as a source of information and empowerment
CAGE has also written to the Chair of All Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, Anna Soubry MP, calling on her group to:
- Consider a sub-committee review on the manner of Schedule 7
- Request the Home Office release data on the religious profiles of those stopped
- Assess this information in light of ongoing investigations into the structuralisation and institutionalisation of Islamophobia, and its impact on policy and society
CAGE International Director Muhammad Rabbani, who himself has been stopped over 20 times under Schedule 7 powers, said: “The discrimination faced by Muslim travellers highlights how embedded Islamophobia is in Schedule 7, and in broader counter terrorism powers. Officers routinely ask intrusive questions about religion and practice, which amounts to a modern day inquisition.
“Public bodies must uphold their duty to protect the rights of minorities, and this is why we are asking the APPG on British Muslims to urgently investigate this matter with the Home Office.”