The latest renovation to the government’s counter-terror arsenal includes changes to Schedule 7, the airport stop and search power. Farid Malik asks if these changes provide rights’ protections that were absent before, or whether they are purely cosmetic.
The Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill completed its passage through both Houses of Parliament and became law on 13 March 2014.  It has been heralded in some quarters as including the most radical and overbearing provisions that any recent British government has pushed through. Its arrival has come however, somewhat, under the radar but will dictate various dimensions of society including: crime and disorder, recovery of dwelling houses, dangerous dogs, extradition, travel, firearms and forced marriage.
Whilst an attempt to reduce the definition for ’anti social behaviour’ to one of just ‘nuisance and annoyance’ was ostensibly blocked by the Lords earlier this year, the new Act means that injunctions can be granted if one threatens, on ‘the balance of probabilities’ to engage in anti- social behaviour, as opposed to the previous, harder to prove burden: ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The lower the evidential burden is for something, the easier it is to prove, and this can be used to throw a blanket over parts of society and claim they are engaging in anti-social acts. This inevitably tightens the screws that government has over society, and subsequently, any increase of governmental control means a decrease in accountability. If one considers these changes in the law with other recent revelations, such as the fact the so- called ‘independent’ Investigatory Powers Tribunal actually sits inside the Home Office, then it appears that Whitehall seems to be dancing to a totalitarian tune.
Importantly for Muslims, the new Law also makes amendments to the widely criticised Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.  Detention of travellers at ports and borders was and still is permitted, regardless of whether or not there is any ground for suspecting that a person had been involved in any sort of terrorism, the amendments have not made any changes to this provision.
The notable changes to Schedule 7 are that:
– Immigration Officers may only exercise their powers if they have been designated to them specifically by the Secretary of State.
– The Secretary of State will need to issue a Code of Practice about training for those who undertake Schedule 7 powers.
– The maximum time allowed for questioning is reduced from nine hours to six.
– Also, and most crucially, since the judgment in Elosta, the new Act was edited to enshrine the right to have a solicitor present at any time during a Schedule 7 ordeal. This safeguard is a fundamental right of the detained, and Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson welcomes the new rule and confirms that, “there is no sound reason why questioning of a detainee should not be delayed pending the arrival of a solicitor who can advise on what questions they are obliged to answer and explain the legal implications of refusing to do so.”
So, whilst the Act on the face of it seems to take a step in the right direction, the changes, unfortunately, are merely cosmetic. It fails to tackle the pertinent issues: that people may be stopped without suspicion, with no right of silence, and for an absurd length of time. Crucially, it does nothing to stop the disproportional targeting of Muslims. An example of this is the change of detention time from nine hours to six, this seems a Trojan-esque olive branch, considering in Gillan and Quinton vs. United Kingdom it was decided that even 30 minutes detention was a breach of one’s fundamental freedoms. One must argue that any stop and search mechanism that can be exercised without suspicion is destructively intrusive and its arbitrary use breeds more distrust than it does protection.
Considering David Miranda was ‘lawfully’ stopped under Schedule 7 in August 2013 (whilst this Bill was still being discussed at Parliament and potentially could have been amended significantly considering the then media attention on how vast the Schedule 7’s scope is) it is clear that the government is retaining the core purpose i.e. the right to stop, question, and search who so ever comes and goes from the UK.  This gives the government an overarching tool to be used systematically, and thus acts as a weapon, rather than they would have us perceive it is. With this explanation, its existence in the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, the Act which is our path to a ‘police state’, suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Muslims should be aware that the most important change relevant to the community, is the confirmed right to legal representation for those stopped under Schedule 7. Discussions must continue to have Schedule 7 repealed completely, and although the changes are welcome, they turn a blind eye to the problem at large.

If you have been impacted by this Act or have been stopped under Schedule 7, please get in touch with us at CAGE can put you in touch with a lawyer should you require one.  

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)