No. 13 of #50cases.
Stop and search can be an essential part of police work. But who can they stop, and can they stop anyone they like?
Kevin Gillan was headed to the Docklands to protest against an arms fair. He wanted to protest against dealing in violent weapons. Yet two police officers stopped and searched him for articles that could be used in connection with terrorism. Twenty minutes later, after the police had taken his printouts of information about the demonstration, they let him go. Later that day, Pennie Quinton, a journalist, was stopped and searched nearby on her way to film the protest. She wanted to make a documentary or to sell the footage. The police found nothing incriminating and, about 30 minutes later, let her leave. She didn’t return because she felt intimidated and distressed.
They both complained that being stopped and searched by the police, under the powers given by UK anti-terrorism law, breached their human rights, including to respect for private and family life.
The Human Rights Court, in Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom, agreed. The searches were unlawful interferences with Gillan’s and Quinton’s rights to respect for private life. The use of the powers to require a person to submit to a detailed search of themselves, their clothing and their personal belongings was a clear interference with their privacy. In some cases, the fact that the search was in public made the seriousness of the interference worse because of the humiliation and embarrassment involved.
The interference with the Gillan’s and Quinton’s private lives was not lawful. The lack of any requirement for reasonable suspicion meant there a clear risk of arbitrariness. The police had been given too broad a discretion, and the powers were insufficiently limited or subject to legal safeguards against abuse.