Monday, 5 July 2010

human rights, uk: police abuse, anti-teen device


Terror stop and search powers will have to stop, says Europe

Police will have to abandon a key power to stop and search suspects under terrorism laws after a European court ruled it illegal and rejected a Home Office appeal.

Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
02 Jul 2010

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, officers can stop and search anyone in a designated area without having to show reasonable suspicion.

But police have been accused of abusing the power, which resulted in more than 250,000 searches last year, in order to stop anyone, including protesters or photographers, under the guise of preventing terrorism.

In January, the European Court of European Rights ruled the tactic breached human rights because it intruded on an individual's privacy because police could stop them without even having to have suspicion.

At the time, Alan Johnson, the then Home Secretary, was said to be frustrated by the European decision because the power had been ruled legal by all the UK courts.

The Home Office appealed the ruling but the court has now rejected that and refused any future challenges, meaning the Government will have little option but to abandon the power.

It can remain in place for the time being as ministers are allowed a grace period to assess how the ruling is complied with.

Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, which supported the original court action, said: "This appeal was always doomed.

"The objectionable policy of broad stop and search without suspicion was wrong in principle and has proven divisive and counterproductive in practice.

"The Great Repeal Bill promised by the new Government provides the perfect opportunity for the UK finally to comply with this common sense judgment."

The original ruling followed a case brought by two Britons who were subject to the so-called Section 44 stops outside an arms fair in east London in 2003.

Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton were also awarded more than £30,000 compensation, which raised the prospect that police could now face further challenges from others who were stopped in the same way.

Mr Gillan and Miss Quinton were both searched on the same day in the area of the Defence Systems and Equipment International Exhibition at the Excel Centre in Docklands, but nothing incriminating was found.

The High Court and the Court of Appeal said such powers were legitimate given the risk of terrorism in London.

But the European judges disagreed.

They said the powers were "neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. They are not, therefore, 'in accordance with the law' and it follows that there has been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect private and family life) of the Convention."

In the wake of the ruling Miss Quinton said the ruling sent a strong signal that the anti-terror laws need to be looked at again. while Mr Gillan said the laws "demonstrated some of the nastiest, most draconian sides of this Government and had to be challenged".

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government has already committed to reviewing counter-terrorism legislation, which will include the operation of the Section 44 stop and search provisions.

"We are currently giving full consideration to the judgment and its implications."


Teenager-repellent 'mosquito' must be banned, says Europe

'Degrading and discriminatory' device violates legislation prohibiting torture, according to investigation

Mark Townsend, home affairs editor
20 June 2010

A device that uses high-frequency sound to disperse teenage gangs is illegal under human rights law and is "degrading and discriminatory" to youngsters, a report this week claims.

An investigation by the Council of Europe found that the controversial "mosquito" device should be banned from Britain immediately because it violates legislation prohibiting torture. It found that "inflicting acoustic pain on young people and treating them as if they were unwanted birds or pests, is harmful [and] highly offensive."

The report also expressed concern that its use could constitute a "health hazard" and lacked adequate medical research.

The UK has more mosquitos in use than any other European state. The device has been installed at more than 3,500 sites across the country – compared to 5,000 across Europe as a whole – since it first went on sale in January 2006.

The mosquito works by emitting a pulse at 16-18.5 kilohertz that switches on and off four times a second for up to 20 minutes. It emits an irritating, high-pitched sound that can be heard only by children and people into their early 20s, and is used to prevent teenagers congregating outside shops, schools and railway stations.

Critics, however, say the device targets all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are misbehaving.

The council, which oversees the European Court of Human Rights, says the device contravenes international law prohibiting torture and "inhuman and degrading treatment".

"It is neither politically acceptable nor consistent with the safeguard of fundamental human rights. For these reasons, legislative measures should be taken throughout Europe against the marketing of such devices and their use in public places should be banned."

Calls for a ban by Europe's oldest political body are likely to be approved by the council's parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg this week.

The report's authors revealed that, although there had been co-operation with investigators from other countries where the mosquito is used, the UK government failed to respond to the council's questionnaire on the device.

The author's report, Polish senator Piotr Wach, said: "The lack of response from the UK, the country in which the 'mosquito' was developed, hindered the preparation of this report."

The mosquito is the brainchild of former British Aerospace engineer, Howard Stapleton, who came up with the device after his daughter was intimidated by a gang of boys hanging around outside shops.

Stapleton said he had received hundreds of positive reports from police, councils and businesses, but conceded a test case might be the only way of establishing the mosquito's legality.

Stapleton said: "There have been several independent investigations that conclude that when used properly there are no health concerns. The mosquito can be easily adapted so that it can be monitored and controlled centrally by either the police or a private company under agreed guidelines. This is something we have been lobbying for over three years with no success.

"As to the contravention of teenage rights, what about the rights of our homeowners and shopkeepers? Why ban the mosquito when it benefits the lives of so many beleaguered people?"

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