Gillan and Quinton v. the United Kingdom (Application no. 4158/05)

A selection of key paragraph(s) can be found below the document.


80. The Court notes at the outset that the senior police officer referred to in section 44(4) of the Act is empowered to authorise any constable in uniform to stop and search a pedestrian in any area specified by him within his jurisdiction if he “considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism”. However, “expedient” means no more than “advantageous” or “helpful”. There is no requirement at the authorisation stage that the stop and search power be considered “necessary” and therefore no requirement of any assessment of the proportionality of the measure. […]

83. Of still further concern is the breadth of the discretion conferred on the individual police officer. The officer is obliged, in carrying out the search, to comply with the terms of the Code. However, the Code governs essentially the mode in which the stop and search is carried out, rather than providing any restriction on the officer’s decision to stop and search. That decision is, as the House of Lords made clear, one based exclusively on the “hunch” or “professional intuition” of the officer concerned (see paragraph 23 above). Not only is it unnecessary for him to demonstrate the existence of any reasonable suspicion; he is not required even subjectively to suspect anything about the person stopped and searched. The sole proviso is that the search must be for the purpose of looking for articles which could be used in connection with terrorism, a very wide category which could cover many articles commonly carried by people in the streets. Provided the person concerned is stopped for the purpose of searching for such articles, the police officer does not even have to have grounds for suspecting the presence of such articles. As noted by Lord Brown in the House of Lords, the stop and search power provided for by section 44 “radically … departs from our traditional understanding of the limits of police power” (see paragraph 23 above).

85. In the Court’s view, there is a clear risk of arbitrariness in the grant of such a broad discretion to the police officer. While the present cases do not concern black applicants or those of Asian origin, the risks of the discriminatory use of the powers against such persons is a very real consideration, as the judgments of Lord Hope, Lord Scott and Lord Brown recognised. The available statistics show that black and Asian persons are disproportionately affected by the powers, although the Independent Reviewer has also noted, in his most recent report, that there has also been a practice of stopping and searching white people purely to produce greater racial balance in the statistics (see paragraphs 43-44 above). There is, furthermore, a risk that such a widely framed power could be misused against demonstrators and protestors in breach of Article 10 and/or 11 of the Convention.

86. The Government argue that safeguards against abuse are provided by the right of an individual to challenge a stop and search by way of judicial review or an action in damages. But the limitations of both actions are clearly demonstrated by the present case. In particular, in the absence of any obligation on the part of the officer to show a reasonable suspicion, it is likely to be difficult if not impossible to prove that the power was improperly exercised.

87. In conclusion, the Court considers that the powers of authorisation and confirmation as well as those of stop and search under sections 44 and 45 of the 2000 Act are neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. They are not, therefore, “in accordance with the law” and it follows that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.


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