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Section 44 is no more

THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights has ruled that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - which allowed police to stop and search anyone without having to show "reasonable suspicion" - is illegal. The power applied in "designated areas" - and the whole of London was "designated" from the Act coming into force.

London Freelance Branch member Pennie Quinton took the case to the ECHR after she was stopped and prevented from reporting on a demonstration against an arms fair in London's Docklands on 9 September 2003. Since then the case has been all the way to the House of Lords and back to Central London County Court, where Pennie and protester Kevin Gillan lost in precisely the right way to get to Strasbourg.

The ECHR website crashed on Tuesday morning - the Freelance at present has no more than the suspicion that this was connected with the number of people trying to get the judgement.

The UK government announced that it would "appeal" the finding and advise police forces to carry on using the power. The Register has a lawyer's opinion that this could leave "police authorities incurring some very large legal bills". The Freelance would suggest to anyone stopped under Section 44 that they comply with instructions, keep full records, and get contact information for any witnesses.

There isn't actually an "appeal" - the Court is after all as high as you can go. Its statement says:

within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17-member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final.

Expect it to become final on 12 April, then.

12 January 2010

Er, no. We have word that on Friday 10 January the UK government indeed referred the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. No word yet on when a panel of the Grand Chamber will decide whether to entertain a re-hearing. So the verdict against Section 44 isn't finalised.

Photo © Mike Holderness
Pennie Quinton leaving the European Court of Human Rights in May 2009

Posted: 12 Jan 2010; last modified: 12 Apr 2010 - © 2009 contributors
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