High court rejects claim that tactics used at arms fair were illegal

Rebecca Allison Saturday November 1, 2003 The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1075445,00.html

Civil rights campaigners yesterday lost their bid for a high court ruling that anti-terrorism laws were used unlawfully to stop and search demonstrators at an international arms fair in east London.

The challenge was brought against the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir John Stevens, and the home secretary, David Blunkett, after protesters outside the Excel Centre in the Docklands last month were confronted by officers using special powers under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Scotland Yard initially denied using the legislation but later admitted it had been used in some cases during the £1m policing operation.

Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Maurice Kay said the use of the random stop and search powers and any violation of human rights had been justified in the light of the threat of terrorism. But they did give permission for an appeal to be lodged because of the wide public importance.

Dozens of protesters were stopped for up to 45 minutes during the four-day event and at least two of the 144 people arrested were detained under the Terrorism Act.

The case was brought by Liberty on behalf of a student, Kevin Gillan, 26, from Sheffield, and a freelance photo-journalist, Pennie Quinton, 32.

Human rights lawyers argued that the action had unlawfully deterred members of the public from demonstrating peacefully. Owen Davies QC said the “draconian” powers were being used in a way never intended by parliament.

But John McGuinness QC, for the police commissioner, said there were safeguards. The powers could only be used to search a person “for articles connected with terrorism” and there was no evidence that they had been misused.

During the hearing it was revealed that authorisations have been in force for the greater London area continuously since February 19 2001. Police officers of the rank of commander and above can authorise searches under section 44 of the act for a period of up to 28 days if they obtain backing from the home secretary.

The judges said: “Most people realise the risk they face from terrorism. They tolerate the inconvenience when they are searched when they enter buildings. They will be equally tolerant if the police make it clear that they need to stop/search people and vehicles because of the threat from terrorism.”

But they also sympathised with people who “get annoyed” during random searches which have been “elevated into a slow, bureaucratic process”.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “Ultimately the judges gave deference to the police and home secretary in national security issues.”

She said it was incredible that had it not been for this case the people of London would have no idea that since February 2001 the area has been designated on a rolling basis a stop and search zone. “If it is a permanent state of emergency then parliament needs to look at this again.”

Mr Blunkett said the ruling showed procedures were appropriate. “The ruling reinforces our message that the protection of the public and national security is the responsibility of the government and the police and neither can take risks.”

The Metropolitan police said it was pleased the court had endorsed its use of section 44 powers but recognised the need to use them properly.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1075445,00.html

Liberty Judicial Review, previous blog entry:

http://tash_lodge.blogspot.com/2003_10_19_tash_lodge_archive.html#106703353357724645

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