Amendment 129

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 3 November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 5:00, 3 November 2021

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 276, to which I have added my name. Suspicionless stop and search is a significant problem for community relations in this country. It is a significant problem for trust in the police. In recent days, we have rightly given a great deal of time and attention on all sides of your Lordships’ House, including in this Committee, to trust and confidence on the part of women, and young women in particular, but we must not forget other aspects of broader trust and confidence, including the issue of young black men and policing.

Decades after the Lawrence inquiry, we still need to keep returning to this issue. No power or set of powers has probably done more to weigh against the strides made by the late Sir William Macpherson and by everyone across politics, including former Prime Minister, Theresa May, to try to address problems with stop and search. No power has been more problematic than that of suspicionless stop and search in general and Section 60 in particular.

This is really not a partisan issue. Your Lordships know that, long before I came to this House, I was a civil liberties campaigner and not popular with Governments of either stripe in relation to powers such as these. In my view, there has been an authoritarian arms race about law and order in this country for too long. No Government are perfect. No Opposition are perfect. This is a good moment to look at stop and search. There is no better parliamentarian to be leading us in this conversation than the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

The problem with suspicionless stop and search is this. No human is perfect; therefore, no police officer is perfect. Stop and search, conducted by humans of other humans, even with reasonable suspicion, is problematic, but there is no choice if we want to combat crime and investigate offences that have happened or that might yet take place. We have to have powers to stop and search. They are problematic, even when based on reasonable suspicion because what is reasonable suspicion? Who do we think is going equipped? Who do we think meets the profile of somebody who committed an offence a few hours ago? Of course, it is hard for any citizen, including constables, to rid themselves of all the baggage that comes with being in this—or any—society. Those problems are so compounded when reasonable suspicion is taken out of the equation.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act gives the power—which is triggered by a senior police officer, but a police officer none the less—effectively to change the criminal law in an area for the period in which that power is triggered. In that particular part of town, there is effectively a suspicionless stop and search zone. We are often talking about urban areas, and areas with a very high density of people from certain communities. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, can correct me if I am wrong. Within that area, young black men in particular know that that is a stop and search zone. Their first encounters with the police service are often very negative.

Because of the rise of the internet, mobile phone use and videos of incidents, this material is now there to be viewed. I have seen some very disturbing scenes of quite young boys being stopped and searched, without suspicion, on streets not many miles from here. These young boys and men do not have the protections that they have post-arrest in the police station. Arrest is based on reasonable suspicion. Officers usually stop a young man. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave the statistics. If you are a young black man you are many more times likely to be stopped and searched than if you are a young white woman, let alone a middle-aged woman like me.

Sometimes officers will be situated in a particular place. I understand their reasons. They are worried about knife use, for example. Some young men are being stopped on a routine basis. Sometimes big, burly officers make a human wall around a boy of perhaps 13 or 14 years-old. I have seen the pictures. People in that community—bystanders, if it happens in the daytime—will be trying to remonstrate with the officers. They will be held back. This young man—13, 14 or 15 years-old —is having his first encounter with the authorities. He is frightened. He is behind this human wall of big, burly officers. There is not even reasonable suspicion that he has done something wrong.

It seems to me that this is very dangerous—and it is not an occasion where I can even blame the police. It is an occasion when I have to look to the statute book itself, because this is about legislators, not police officers. I have been critical in other debates, and I am afraid that I will have to be critical about some decisions that the police have made. But this is a legislative problem, because legislators from both major parties have allowed this regime to be triggered for suspicionless stop and search, and it has created problems over many years. It really is time to address this.

This seems like a radical probing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but if Section 60 were removed from the statute book, what would be the consequence? There would still be ordinary, democratic, rule of law-based powers to stop and search with reasonable suspicion. That is a fairly low threshold in any event, I would argue, but this ability and power to designate particular areas—everybody knows where those areas are and who is affected in them—would go. I cannot think of a more positive signal and progressive step for any Government, any party and any legislator who cares about race relations in this country, and cares about rebuilding trust in policing and the rule of law.

So once more I find myself thanking the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I feel that I will do so again a few more times in this Committee.