Committee concerned on increase in use of Stop and Search Powers

Thursday, 19 February, 2009

Members of the Board's Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee have received the latest quarterly statistics (1 October 2008-31 December 2008) on the use of stop and search powers by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The Committee is responsible for overseeing how the PSNI meet its responsibilities under the Human Rights Act 1998 and scrutinising the use of police stop and search powers forms an important element of this work.

Chair of the Committee Basil McCrea MLA said,

"This is an issue of some concern to the Committee and an area where the wider public needs assurance that the police are fully accountable in the use of stop and search powers.

The Board has made a number of recommendations for the PSNI in respect of the use of stop and search powers and in scrutinising the latest figures, Members raised some issues which will require clarification from the PSNI. Of particular concern to Members was the marked increase in the use of Section 44 Terrorism Powers. The statistics show that in the final 3 months of 2008 there was a 245% increase in the number of persons stopped and searched under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act compared to the same period in 2007.

Lord Carlile recently stated that he believed that Section 44 is used too much in England and Wales. He expressed the view that it should not be used [in England and Wales"> where there is an acceptable alternative under other powers. The Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee have requested greater information in relation to the use of powers under Section 44 in Northern Ireland in order to ensure that the exercise of such powers are justified, necessary and proportionate.

Whilst the Chief Constable has briefed the Board on the high level of dissident threat and ongoing police operations to deal with those still intent on terrorism, the Committee have asked for clarification from the PSNI that the legislation and governing guidelines are being strictly adhered to in all uses of this legislation."

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