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UK strengthens test for stop and search of terror suspects

UK Home Secretary Theresa May [official profile] on Thursday announced interim stop-and-search guidelines for suspected terrorists in response to a January ruling [JURIST report] by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], which found that searches performed by police without legitimate suspicion are illegal. Following the judgment, the government suspended Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 [text], which authorized police to conduct a search of any pedestrian, vehicle or passenger in a vehicle "if the person giving it considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism." Under the interim guidelines the search must now be "necessary" instead of "expedient," and police may only conduct a stop and search if they reasonably suspect the person of terror-related activities:

The interim guidelines will be in place until the new coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron [official profile] further reviews the nation's counter-terrorism legislation. May said that the government cannot appeal [AFP report] the ECHR ruling, but would not do so if it could.

In January, ECHR unanimously ruled [judgment text] 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. Under Article 8, everyone is entitled to the right of respect for private and family life. The court found that although the search is undertaken in a public place, Article 8 is still applicable. "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."

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