Averroes responded to the Home Office consultation which sought views on proposals to review the operation of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The aim of the consultation was to ensure that the operation of Schedule 7 and its powers is, in each case, necessary and proportionate. The Home Office sought input in reviewing possible improvements to the powers which would continue to maintain the protection of the UK border and respect human rights.
Averroes responded to the consultation to help ensure that the powers are used effectively, fairly and proportionately. The document submitted can be downloaded here. A summary of our response was as follows:
- Averroes has conducted extensive research into the experiences of Muslims regarding schedule 7, especially young males entering and exiting from the UK’s various ports. Based on this research, Schedule 7 powers are unfair, too wide ranging and should be curtailed.
Periods of examination
- The current maximum period of examination of nine hours is wholly disproportionate and should be reduced from 9 hours to one hour after which a decision should be made to release the individual or arrest them.
- There is no evidence to suggest that examination or detention times correlate with the likelihood of apprehending terrorists and the statistics released as part of this consultation exercise show that this reduction is feasible given that over 97% of Schedule 7 encounters were below the first hour.
Power to Detain
- A supervisor must review the need to continue an examination and the reasons for doing so must be compelling.
- The examining officer must show that their use of probing questions have yielded information that provides a basis for reasonable suspicion in relation to what the general public would answer in similar circumstances.
- Any examination which needs to exceed a set time limit must require the person to be formally detained. This will provide the individual with recourse to legal representation and other rights under PACE and the accompanying codes of practice, as opposed to examination which carries no basic rights for individuals.
- One hour should be the maximum time an examination should last before the person is formally detained or released. We believe an hour of examination is enough time for an examining officer to form a conclusion that a longer period is needed, or that the individual can be released.
Schedule 7 and Legal Rights
- People who are detained under schedule 7 should have access to legal advice; this would ensure that examining officer take greater care in avoiding excessive behavior, which currently goes unchecked.
- All questioning should be recorded whether it be under examination or detention.
- Waiting for legal advice or securing recording facilities will not cause undue delay as legal advice can be given over the phone, and modern technology means that recording facilities are more readily available.
Training of Examining Officers
- Schedule 7 powers should only be used by officers trained to use them which is currently not the case.
- The training of officers should cover legal responsibilities, but also should cover wider knowledge about the movements of those that Schedule 7 is likely to affect, namely Muslims, many of whom travel to the Muslim world for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, to pursue Islamic studies or visit families in their homelands.
- Officers who have not been fully trained to use schedule 7 should not use the powers under the supervision of a trained officer even in exceptional circumstances such as after a terrorist attack
- If there is intelligence to suggest an imminent attack is to take place, this should not provide a pretext to allow inexperienced and unaccredited officers to apply Schedule 7 in a manner that may breach the Code of Conduct.
- The Terrorism Act should be changed so that without reasonable suspicion strip searches cannot be carried out.
- In the case of reasonable suspicion a supervisor must authorise the use of strip searches.
Taking of Biometrics
- It is of paramount importance that an individual should consent to the taking of biometrics at a port.
- Individuals should be made aware of the importance of compliance but if this consent is not given, they should be transferred to a police station.
- It must be appreciated that many individuals may find it difficult to understand that their biometrics is being taken at a port without being informed of the reason or having not been charged and this actually infringes upon their ‘presumption of innocence’.
- The power to acquire intimate biometrics should be removed; it is an intrusive procedure which is also unnecessary as it provides few advantages over non-intimate biometric information.
- The examination process can be improved by closely gearing it towards targeting those who are concerned with or are engaged in terrorist activity without implicating innocent citizens.
- Numerous allegations have been made which suggest that schedule 7 powers are being used to develop intelligence around certain communities
- For Schedule 7 to be seen to be proportionate and fair it must have at its core, reasonable grounds for suspicion of wrongdoing when stopping and searching.
(Image source: Guardian)