Britain should scrap an ineffective stop-and-search anti-terrorism law that has damaged community relations and disproportionately targeted minority groups, Human Rights Watch says. Under a law passed in 2000, British police can stop and search anyone they may “reasonably suspect to be a terrorist,” which has led to thousands of people — often from ethnic minorities — being accosted without firm grounds for suspicion.
The European Court of Human Rights in January upheld a complaint against the practice, and has since rejected an appeal by the British government. The court said that officers acting on simple intuition left too much discretion to police.
“The case for scrapping this stop-and-search power is overwhelming,” Benjamin Ward, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement marking the launch of the group’s report into the issue.
“The benefits are dubious but the costs for human rights and community relations are easy to see,” he added.
Britain’s new coalition government, in power since May, has pledged to review counter-terrorism legislation, and a report to parliament is due in the autumn.
“The government has already committed to reviewing counter-terrorism legislation which will include the operation of … stop and search provisions,” a Home Office spokeswoman said in a statement.
She could not immediately confirm whether stop-and-search was still being practiced.
“We are currently giving full consideration to the judgement and its implications,” she added, referring to the European court’s rejection of Britain’s appeal.
Human Rights Watch said no one had been successfully prosecuted for a terrorism offence despite almost 450,000 stop and searches in Britain between April 2007 and April 2009.
People of South Asian origin and black people are more likely to be stopped than white people, the rights group said, adding that the practice damages community relations and undermines public confidence in the police.