The European Court ruled that police stop and searches are unlawful. Will the same apply at sea?



I blogged several times last year (read the last one here) about the concerns arising from the UK Border Agency’s random stop and search of yachts coasting in UK waters.

After taking over powers from HM Customs & Excise they had been randomly stopping yachts and asking for details of skippers’ and crews’ ID and ships’ papers. When asked by us to give details of what legislation permitted this they obfuscated. We concluded, as had the RYA after its investigations, that the UKBA had not quite been able to put their finger on any laws that allowed it.

My later attempts to find out how often this had happened through the Freedom of Information Act came to nothing; the UKBA said they had kept no such records.

But my guess is the over zealousness of the UK Border Agency will quietly be curbed. In January the European Court ruled that ‘arbitrary’ stops by police under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 are unlawful, saying that both the powers and they way they were authorised were ‘neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse’.

And it should be noted that the police do record these stop and searches, and that between 2004 and 2008 they increased fourfold from 33,177 to more than 117,200 times.

Yesterday, the BBC reported (here) that the Police Service of Northern Ireland have also finally halted random stop and searches, which they admit had grown more than threefold since 2000.

Like I say, the UK Border Agency is not telling us which laws it has been relying on for its random stop and searches, but I think it is pretty clear that the European Court would likely rule them illegal.

And if you didn’t see the previous blogs, I should point out that the UK Border Agency finally admitted after quite a correspondence that if coasting in home waters you do not have to supply your details and ID if asked.

Incidentally, even before the police powers were curbed, citizens never had to identify themselves to police if stopped unless they were being charged with an offence. Conversely, the law stated that the police officer had to give his or her details in writing to you.