Finding the balance between security and privacy…

BBC Radio Ulster’s second story on the bulletins this morning was about the Policing Board’s Human Rights Report saying that nearly 10,000 people were stopped and searched in 2008/9 – three times that of 2007/8. This is not new; that most recent figure was revealed in the Report of the Independent Reviewer of the Justice and Security Act published on January 4, which the Beeb didn’t appear to notice.

However, Pete’s note from the time reported the massive increase of late. And in the three months from July to September ALONE, there were more Section 44 searches than in the entire previous year. Obviously that coincided with the lethal increase in dissident republican activity. The question is if the police are exercising their powers properly when there are alternatives.

Section 44 has recently been ruled illegal, and unless the Government wins its appeal against the ECHR, there will be particular consequences for Northern Ireland one way or another. Perhaps there will be a change in policy towards greater use of Police and Criminal Evidence powers, which require reasonable suspicion for a search, rather than the easy way out with S44 random searches.

(UPDATE: Now that he’s woke up, Nolan is covering this on Radio Ulster now. Is Basil McCrea arguing that the ECHR ruling only applies to the Met!?)

  • jtwo

    The beeb did report the figures at the time of the ECHR ruling http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8460303.stm

  • Does the ECHR have any practical suggestions for dealing with the threat to the likes of Peadar Heffron? So called human rights organisations have at times appeared to have been more of a comfort to the attacker than the attacked.

    Just a reminder that the BBC (and Slugger) has yet to report the shortage of constables, the inclusion of student officers in the full time officer figures and the decision to drop the Patten Established comparative figures when the new Chief Constable was challenged about the discrepancies. I’m told that his attempted bluster was that the PSNI figures were wrong!! Here’s a cache copy of the previous presentation.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    jtwo

    Fair enough, although I thought when I read Pete’s post that the figures were significant in their own right. The rise was huge. But yeah, the later ruling adds a significance to that fact.

    Certainly one to watch, no matter which side of the fence you sit on.

  • Brian Walker

    Section 44 not quite “illegal.” The Strabourg court influences but does not directly overrule. As a signatory of the HR Convention,the UK is pledged to pay attention to it, as the link to the Guardian news story explains.

  • wje

    The European Court judged that “it considers that the powers of authorisation and confirmation as well as those of stop and search under sections 44 and 45 of the 2000 (Terrorism) Act are neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. They are not, therefore, ‘in accordance with the law’.”

    Not quite “illegal”?

  • Rory Carr

    ‘Not quite “illegal”?’

    …er, not quite, WJE. That which is legal would, by definition, be required to be in accordance with the law. On the other hand…..

    I’m sure you can work it out from here.

  • joeCanuck

    Misunderstanding?

    Unlawful is against the law.
    Illegal is a sick bird.

  • Mr. J.

    I’m with Nevin on this one.

    Aside from rejecting the assumption of the existence of human rights on a philosophical basis, I rarely see the practical use of human rights courts or organisations, though I would make an exception in select cases for Amnesty International. The organisations appear to act as nothing more than a scolding schoolteacher, with little regard for the society to which their judgements are applied.

    It’s a fairly simplistic thing to say ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about’, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean it isn’t true. In certain circumstances, stop and search is a neccessary evil, and I think it applies here.

    I know I, and many others, would be prepared to put up with being stopped and searched if I knew that the practice was hampering an increase in dissident activity. Of course, one could look at the numbers and compare the figures for searches and those for subsequent arrests/charges, and find a great discrepancy. The problem there is knowing how much impact the S44 powers are having on dissident communication/transport lines, which will ultimately remain fairly intangible.

    My only concern is that the increase of Section 44 powers being used in the province is a step backwards after a decade of relative normality, but while there are people determined to drag Northern Ireland back into the gutter, I expect it is something that will have to be put up with.

  • wje

    In full accordance with you, Rory.

    My ‘not quite “illegal”?’ comment after the direct quote from the ECtHR ruling was in response to Brian Walker’s ‘Not quite “illegal”‘ (without a question mark) at #4.

  • JaneJeffers

    re: nolan

    What do you mean “Now that he’s woke up”?

  • Mr. J.

    JaneJeffers,

    I think he’s referring to the face that in the past few weeks Nolan has been ignoring the elephant in the room regarding Gerry Adams and his role the allegations of sexual abuse, especially considering the field day Nolan had over what I regretfully refer to as ‘Irisgate’.

  • Mr. J.

    And by face, I mean fact.

  • Brian Walker

    Gonzo and others.. It’s a common misapprehension, that the Strasbourg court’s rulings apply directly. They don’t. This ruling does not have direct force of law, though in practice rulings are never ignored. The Human Rights Act of 1998 brought the freedoms of the Convention more fully into British law and is applied by British judges. By signing up to the Convention, States guarantee to provide a framework for the Convention’s rights. The Conservatives would not derogate from the Convention but intend to bring in a new British Bill to replace the HRA designed inter alia to restrict applications with respect to terrorism. A Supremacy of Parliament Bill will also emphasise the supremacy of national law-making. A Labour Bill would make few changes but would entrench the substance of the HRA ( i.e. make it very difficult to repeal). Just in case you think the UK is the worst guy re the Convention, the Conservatives point out that unlike the UK:

     Other countries have signed up with reservations that permit them to override certain articles of the ECHR
     France has reserved the right to derogate from the ECHR in times of emergency under the conditions laid down by the French constitution
     The Basic Law in Germany enables the European Court of Human Rights to defer to clearly defined domestic constitutional doctrine under the margin of appreciation.

  • tacapall

    I know I, and many others, would be prepared to put up with being stopped and searched if I knew that the practice was hampering an increase in dissident activity.
    Posted by Mr. J. on Jan 21, 2010 @ 12:23 PM

    Five Nationalists stopped and searched an hour and you would be prepared to put up with it ! I suppose it depends what side of the community you come from.
    like a millionaire telling a poor person money doesn’t money doesn’t bring you happiness.

  • Mr. J.

    Tacapall,

    The PSNI are trying to disrupt and obstruct dissident republican activity. I would say it’s reasonably safe to assume that these people would probably live in Nationalist areas, and that is where the PSNI would probably be wise to focus their efforts. It’s unfortunate that that is the state of play, but there you go.

    If you reject the violence perpetrated by these people, then you have to stop viewing the police as an instrument of state oppression, and see them as having an extremely difficult and dangerous job to do, and not a huge array of tools to do this job at their disposal, hence relying on the problematic and inefficient use of stop and search powers.

    Is there a case to be answered for a lack of information coming from sections of the Nationalist community who would outwardly profess to support the peace process? I couldn’t possibly speculate, others would know better than I

    As for what section of the community I come from? I hardly see the relevance, but I don’t mind saying that I’m neither Unionist nor Nationalist. I’m much more concerned with the good governance and security of the province I live in.

  • Jane Jeffers, the explanation might be more mundane; the Nolan Show didn’t start on time. Perhaps Stephen, ahem, slept in.

  • tacapall

    If you reject the violence perpetrated by these people, then you have to stop viewing the police as an instrument of state oppression, and see them as having an extremely difficult and dangerous job to do, and not a huge array of tools to do this job at their disposal, hence relying on the problematic and inefficient use of stop and search powers.

    Theres the Problem you see, because theres more police officers here per population ratio than anywhere in the UK, and whats that new spy headquarters doing down in Hollywood then, plus the fact of the 50 – 50 recruitment drive, plenty of catholic police officers live in the very areas where the target community who are being stopped and search live. Could it possibly be that those very police officers are being, thrown to the wolves.

  • Mr. J.

    Tacapall,

    I take your point, but if we are trying to build a normal society, then police shouldn’t be segregated in specific areas which are deemed ‘safe’ as was the case during the Troubles.

    Even with that said, I know from a number of friends of mine who have recently joined the PSNI, there are still areas where they are not allowed to live, simply not as extensive as it was before, so ‘throwing them to the wolves’ might be too strong.

    As for the MI5 offices in Holywood, I have good reason to believe that they aren’t only engaged in NI work out there, but that they were involved in preventing dissident bombing attacks, which I can’t deny is a good thing.

  • tacapall

    Mr J I like yourself want to build a normal society where all areas are safe for anyone to walk or live but this cannot be at the expense of the Human Rights, denial of Freedom of Movement, of one section of the community. It only reinforces the belief of Nationalists that they are not treated equally in this part of the country, and as to the expression ‘throwing them to the wolves’ I meant given the figures, there has been a “delibrate” massive increase in these human rights abuses since Sinn Fein took their seats on the policing boards, giving the notion that if P+J were devolved it would be worse, and of course putting the safety of those officers at risk, because lets be honest, seeing as its exclusively targeted at the Nationalist community, those police officers identities are being sacrficed and are being used politcally to cause division and dissent in the Nationalist community.

  • tacapall, I thought the increase in searches was down to the increase in attacks and threats from Republican paramilitaries. Also these paramilitaries would view Catholic officers especially as ‘traitors to the cause’.

    You might also find that there’s been a dramatic percentage increase in the number of students not completing their police training as well as in resignations of young officers.

  • tacapall

    I thought the increase in searches was down to the increase in attacks and threats from Republican paramilitaries. Also these paramilitaries would view Catholic officers especially as ‘traitors to the cause’.
    Posted by Nevin on Jan 21, 2010 @ 03:46 PM

    So do you just target the whole Nationalist community, “sure they all look the same” just like they’re doing with the Muslim community in Britain, its nothing more than state sponsored sectarianism.

  • Mr. J.

    Tacapall,

    As uncomfortable as it is, what alternative do you suggest?

    The people the PSNI are trying to obstruct are exclusively Nationalist. You won’t come across a Loyalist dissident Republican, I don’t think. Are you suggesting that they should carry out stop and search everywhere in Northern Ireland simply in the interests of fairness? How is that any better, or any more effective than what is being done now?

    It’s like saying that the Metropolitan police force trying to prevent Islamic terrorists operating in London should carry out Section 44 searches on Jewish people living in Cardiff just so as not to offend the Muslim population of London.

  • Aldous Duke

    For those wondering, Nolan did in fact sleep in til 8.30am today, only managing to breathlessly come on air at 9.25am.

    Just to clarify the figures. Most news outlets appear to be refering to last year and the year before. From what I can work out the figure of 10,265 (under s.44) is for last summer (1st July – 30st Sept), i.e. the 2nd Quarter. The figure of 3,568 represents the 1st Quarter of 2009 (1 Apr – 30 June). The quarterly figures are based around the financial year.

    The total uses of s.44 in the last financial year (1st Apr ’08 – 1st Apr ’09) was 9,548. So far, this financial year it has been used 13,833 times.

  • tacapall

    As uncomfortable as it is, what alternative do you suggest?

    The people the PSNI are trying to obstruct are exclusively Nationalist. You won’t come across a Loyalist dissident Republican, I don’t think. Are you suggesting that they should carry out stop and search everywhere in Northern Ireland simply in the interests of fairness? How is that any better, or any more effective than what is being done now?

    Are saying their are no Loyalist dissident groups ? I could give you a few examples if you wish, but then they’re targetting the Nationalist community as well, so they’re not considered “terrorists”. Is it the case that its only if you attack the police, you’re a terrorist. This is being directed against the Nationalist community for political reasons not security.

  • Aldous Duke

    I’m just wondering. I’ve been mulling over the statistics.

    During the same period, last summer (1st Jul – 30th Sep), with heightened dissident activity, there were 178 uses of Section 44 in the Craigavon district, which contains Lurgan, with no arrests.

    In strabane it was used 1,305 times with 3 arrests. In Foyle 2,203 times with 1 arrest. Armagh district… 94 uses of Section 44 with 8 arrests.

    The figures show little to no return for the PSNI’s regard as the NW as a dissident hotbed.