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Human rights welcome for police "stop and search" rethink

6 February 2015

An announcement by Police Scotland that could mean the end of "consensual" stop and search of members of the public has been welcomed by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, which called for the practice to end immediately.

The move was also welcomed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who recognised the "legitimate public concern" over the practice.

Police Scotland has come under pressure over the high numbers of searches carried out other than under statutory powers, a practice the Commission has questioned as of doubtful legailty, while wider fears have been expressed that it is liable to harm relations with the public.

Ms Sturgeon said yesterday that having spoken with Chief Constable Sir Stephen House on the issue, she could announce "that the force is now in consultation with its partners, with a view to ending non-statutory stop and search".

She told the Parliament: "Following a six-month pilot in Fife, he is considering whether the practice of non-statutory or 'consensual' stop and search should be ended, and I welcome this. We need to ensure that the public can continue to be properly protected in the event that the practice comes to an end.

“I have therefore asked Police Scotland to consult with their partners, the Scottish Police Authority and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland on the way forward. I have asked that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice is updated before the end of March, and I give an assurance that Parliament will also be kept fully updated.”

Welcoming the move, Professor Alan Miller, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, commented on BBC radio: "Stop and search is an important tactic but only when it’s used within the legal framework and with the powers that the public, through Parliament, has given the police. The problem with consensual stop and search is that the public, through Parliament, hasn’t given the police these powers. They have taken it on themselves to decide what circumstances, even without reasonable suspicion they’re going to stop any of us and search us. So, it’s that lack of a legal basis in consensual stop and search that has to be brought to an end, as has been the case in England & Wales."

Asked if he was looking for legislation, Professor Miller replied: "No, I’d be looking for the practice to stop immediately. There is no legal basis for it as far as the Commission is concerned, and I agree with the First Minister and Police Scotland that if there is a gap that needs to be filled in order to protect young people or the communities generally, then that would be a matter for Parliament to decide if that’s the case and if so what would be the appropriate powers to give to the police. But these powers would have to be lawful; they would have to be resting on when the police have reasonable suspicion that someone is at risk or is committing an offence; not just at the discretion of the police outwith a legal framework."

He added that he hoped that lessons for the accountability of Police Scotland had been learned, following criticism of the Scottish Police Authority. he commented: "It’s early days but the governance framework is very important; it has to be robust and this kind of practice is an early example of the need for an effective governance framework."


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