Human Rights,  Law,  Terrorism

British Police need some soul searching

AFP reports:

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned British anti-terror legislation allowing people to be searched by police without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

Now, I’ve been stopped and searched twice by officers citing anti-terror powers.

The last time was merely an annoyance. My partner and I were on our way to gym when we were stopped leaving the station and asked to hand over our tog bags for searching. Of course, this made no real sense since one imagines terrorists carrying bombs would be getting on trains in rush hour, not leaving the station on a Saturday afternoon. This was clearly part of the “security theatre” that Christopher Hitchens talks about. A more cynical view might be that the police needed to make a note that they had stopped a wide demographic variety.  While racial profiling in terror-prevention is a very flawed strategy, wasting time on deliberate strategies to appear not to be racially profiling is equally a distraction from serious anti-terror strategies.

Having said that, I should add that I don’t object to being searched upon entering a building or catching a flight if there is a rational strategy in place. A small inconvenience is an even smaller price to pay for safety.

However, the time before that, I was outraged to be stopped and briefly detained. This was when I and a few other OutRage! campaigners joined Peter Tatchell outside the wedding of Charles and Camilla. We planned to hold placards reading “Charles can marry twice, gays can’t marry once”. Noticing Tatchell, police swooped and led us away from the scene citing anti-terror legislation and handing us each a notice explaining why we were being held. They tried to confiscate our placards too. Had we not been able to loudly assert that they were exceeding their rights in full view of a gathering circle of journalists, they may have pushed their luck even further.

The point is, both OutRage! and Tatchell were known to the officers and it was well known that this was not an attempt to harm the royal couple or their entourage. It was simple a means of harassing peaceful protesters. Worse, it became a standard tactic.

So I’m not surprised by this EU ruling. Were it not for the fact that the British police have essentially taken the piss with these powers, they might have gotten away with it. Indeed, I might have considered supporting an argument that these sort of discretionary powers are sometimes needed in the wider public interest. But our police have proven themselves too immature and self-important to handle the power.

It is right that it is taken away from them.