Random stop and search is price worth paying for a safer Haringey says High Court judge
17:37 18 July 2012
Controversial random stop and search powers are a “justifiable price” to pay for safer streets in Haringey’s most violent neighbourhoods, a High Court judge has said.
Lord Justice Moses made the comment as he and Mr Justice Eady rejected accusations police had violated bus pasenger Ann Juliette Roberts’ human rights during a crackdown on gang crime in Tottenham two years ago.
Lawyers for Mrs Roberts, a black woman with an African-Caribbean heritage, argued that stop and search powers were being used disproportionately against black people without any adequate explanation.
Rejecting Mrs Roberts’ claim that her human rights had been violated, the judge said: “To those citizens in the particular wards in Haringey at serious risk of gang violence, the possibility of being subjected to a random search must seem a justifiable price to pay for greater security and protection from indiscriminate use of weapons.”
Lord Justice Moses described how mum-of-one Mrs Roberts, 38, was on a 149 bus in September 2010 when a ticket inspector discovered that there was not enough money on her Oyster card for her fare.
When asked to leave the bus, she lied about having any identification with her and gave a false name and address to the inspector, at which point a police officer became involved.
Just two hours earlier, Supt Christopher Barclay had granted an authority for stop-and-search powers to be used until the following morning as police feared there would be an escalation in violence between two Haringey gangs.
One armed gang was believed to be looking to confront another gang, with some looking to get hold of firearms “to enhance their reputation”.
The judge said the police officer decided to search Mrs Roberts as she appeared to be nervous and kept a tight hold on her bag, “as if she was trying to conceal something”.
But Mrs Roberts, of Upper Edmonton, would not co-operate and resisted the search - eventually being handcuffed and forced to the ground.
Yet in spite of the caution she received being quashed later, Lord Justice Moses ruled there had been no unlawful deprivation of liberty under the European Convention of Human Rights.
He said: “Had the claimant not resisted, the search would probably have been as short as three minutes.”
The judge ruled the police officer “had every justification for conducting the search” in Mrs Roberts’ case, but then upheld random searches in any event.
The judge said it could not be disputed that the power of random search did give rise to a potential for racial discrimination. But requiring officers to have “a reasonable suspicion” that someone was carrying weapons before searches could be conducted would make it “all too easy for those who wished to conceal weapons whilst travelling around the wards of Haringey to escape detection”.
He said: “It is the very random quality of the power that provides an effective deterrent and increases the chance of discovering weapons.”
He added: “There is a stark choice. The alternative to a random search is to impose a requirement of reasonable suspicion. It is not possible to see how that would be effective for the purposes for which the power to give authorisation is conferred.”