The Guardian picks up on an interview published in the Muslim News this month with the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, on the Olympics and any threat of terrorism. Anderson tells the Muslim News that he will be “watching like a hawk” to ensure that arrests are not made arbitrarily or without ‘reasonable suspicion’.
From the Muslim News:
“The Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation is seeking to ensure that Muslims are not wrongfully arrested during the Olympic Games in London amid fears that the police may abuse their emergency powers.”
In the interview, Anderson comments on the ‘Muslim plot to kill the pope’ that never was, when five Muslim cleaners were arrested after they were overheard talking about Pope Benedict XIV’s visit to the UK in 2010. He tells the paper, “With the benefit of hindsight, you could see that these men were not terrorists”
“What I also said very clearly for the police, the arrest power under Terrorism Act can only be used because you suspect that someone is a terrorist and it cannot be used to clean streets, it cannot be used simply for purposes of gathering intelligence.”
Commenting on the large number of police and intelligence agencies that will be working over the Olympic period, he states, “We have a lot of people in intelligence agencies manning their desks, again their leave cancelled and no doubt there will be a temptation for people to use that time as the Olympics become closer, to arrest people. There is a possibility that people will get worried and they will resort to power of arrest.”
“What I want to make very clear to them is that it not something they are entitled to do unless they have a reasonable suspicion…I am watching like a hawk and so far, in my experience, that tendency has not yet materialised.”
“If we were to see a large increase in arrests of Muslims during Olympic period, even of only 50 people or a 100 people, something like that, I have no doubt there would need to be an inquiry into it… because one would need to be absolutely sure that proper; reasonable suspicion did exist”.
Anderson urges Muslims who feel that they have been treated unjustly by the police to complain saying, “If people are arrested unjustly or without any basis of suspicion, I very much hope that they would complain because it is only if they complain that I am able to come in and investigate and speak to the police and the Home Secretary about it”.
The interview also touches upon stop and search as an issue where Muslims and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately affected. Prior to 2010, the police were widely criticised for using the powers to stop and searches under section 44 of the Terrorism act 2000, in an arbitrary and abusive manner. A case taken to the ECHR however resulted in a ruling dictating that the use of such powers ‘without reasonable suspicion’ was illegal, and the legislation was subsequently revised. Anderson comments that in the last two years, the revised powers have been “so difficult to use that in almost two years, it has not been used a single time.”
His comments on schedule 7, stop and search powers which relate to people being stopped at ports and airports appear to confirm Muslim fears of racial profiling. Anderson states, “it’s indeed more likely that you would be stopped and examined at a port if you are a Muslim or indeed if you are of Asian appearance, North African appearance or Middle Eastern appearance than if you are white”.
In his recent report reviewing the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006, Anderson called for a public consultation into the use of schedule 7 stop and search powers and urged that people be made aware of complaints mechanisms and be encouraged to use it where they believe powers have been used unfairly or discriminatorily. He iterates this in the interview saying, “if your complaint is logged into the system, it will come to my attention and to the attention of others whose job is to keep the police in check.”
Anderson continues, “I would like to see counter terrorism legislation reduced both in its volume and in its intensity. But being realistic about politics is that it is only going to happen if we continue to see in the past few years and improvement in the threat situation.”
Anderson’s interview reflects his comments and recommendations made in a report last week on the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006, in which he called for terrorism legislation to be rebalanced in favour of liberty, arguing that some aspects of counter-terrorism legislation have been applied with “excessive enthusiasm”. His recommendations include the relaxation of legislation on proscribing organisations, relaxation of legislation relating to the detention of terror suspects without charge, and more constrained use of Schedule 7 powers to stop and search.
The full interview published in the Muslim News can be read here.
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