New proposals aimed at addressing knife crime would significantly expand police ‘Stop and Search’ powers
Police could be granted additional stop and search powers under new government proposals to introduce Serious Violence Reduction Orders (‘SVROs’). Under the new regime, any individual convicted of a relevant offence involving knives or offensive weapons could have an SVRO imposed by the Court as part of their sentencing. Police would then have the power to stop and search individuals subject to an SVRO without any further justification or reasonable suspicion.
Police stop and search powers under the current framework
Under the current legal framework, police are almost always required to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ before they are permitted to exercise their powers to stop and search an individual. This legal safeguard is essential to ensuring that these powers are exercised in a way that is fair and objective.
The most commonly used stop and search power is found in section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (‘PACE’) and is further governed by the relevant code of practice (‘Code A’). Code A provides important information and guidance on the ‘reasonable suspicion’ test by setting out the two-stages that officers must satisfy before exercising their power to stop and search:
- Firstly, the officer must have formed a genuine suspicion in their own mind that they will find the object for which the search power being exercised allows them to search. . .; and
- Secondly, the suspicion that the object will be found must be reasonable . . .
Importantly, Code A specifically states that the fact that a person is known to have a previous conviction cannot be used as a reason for stopping and searching an individual.
The potential impact and concerns
Following the proposals, numerous campaign groups including StopWatch, Netpol and Criminal Justice Alliance expressed concerns that the proposals are unnecessary, disproportionate and will do little to address the root causes of knife crime. Indeed, the Home Office acknowledge that there is limited evidence that stop and search is an effective deterrent to crime.
Further, figures show that stop and search already disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities, with black people nine times more likely to be stopped than white people in England and Wales. In a recent report published by the police watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, police forces were heavily criticised for their failure to provide any evidence for the disparity and concerns over unlawful use of stop and search were highlighted. Despite government claims to the contrary, the proposed expansion of stop and search powers will undoubtedly exacerbate this disparity and further contribute to the over-policing and criminalisation of communities and individuals affected by knife crime.
If you have been unlawfully stopped and searched, our expert team of police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are experienced in bringing cases against the police. Please contact them on 020 7632 4300 to discuss your concerns.