Europe rights court rules UK suspicionless searches illegal

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment text; press release] Tuesday that searches performed by police without legitimate suspicion are illegal. The ECHR found that British police had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] when they stopped and searched two individuals in 2003 under the Terrorism Act 2000 [text]. Under Article 8, everyone is entitled to the right of respect for private and family life. The court found:


[T]he use of the coercive powers conferred by the legislation to require an individual to submit to a detailed search of his person, his clothing and his personal belongings amounts to a clear interference with the right to respect for private life. Although the search is undertaken in a public place, this does not mean that Article 8 is inapplicable. Indeed, in the Court's view, the public nature of the search may, in certain cases, compound the seriousness of the interference because of an element of humiliation and embarrassment. Items such as bags, wallets, notebooks and diaries may, moreover, contain personal information which the owner may feel uncomfortable about having exposed to the view of his companions or the wider public.

UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] plans to appeal the decision. As a result, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) [official website] issued a statement [press release] saying that they will continue to use the tactics to protect the public.

The ruling is a blow to the UK's effort to enhance their counter-terrorism efforts, which have recently come under criticism. Last month, the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee [official website] reported [JURIST report] that the UK's 1.2 billion-pound e-Borders [official website] program would likely be found illegal under EU law. The program was intended to provide the UK Border Agency (UKBA) [official website] with a more effective and efficient security system by collecting and analyzing information on all passengers entering or leaving the UK. In September, the UK government released [JURIST report] a second terrorism suspect from a control order [JURIST news archive] that subjected him to virtual house arrest because it did not want to reveal secret evidence. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions in 2008 that the government could continue to impose control orders on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders violate human rights.


 

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