Under ‘section 60’ of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, you can be searched without reasonable grounds in a designated area, if serious violence is anticipated. Such searches could only happen, if it was suspected that:
- Serious violence will take place
- You’re carrying a weapon or have used one
- You’re in a specific location or area
However, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid has announced that it is making it easier for Police Officers to search people without reasonable grounds in locations where serious violence could occur.
The relaxation of the above rules relating to ‘section 60’ will last up to a year (subject to a 6-month review) and will initially apply to seven police forces, which include: London, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester.
The new changes will see the level of authorisation for a section 60 search be reduced from Senior Officer to Inspector level.
Furthermore, the level of certainty required for the authorising Officer has been reduced from believing an incident involving serious violence ‘will’ occur to ‘may’ occur.
The changes will see 3,000 more officers now being given the use of such powers.
This is a stark turnaround from 2014, when the then Home Secretary, Theresa May called for a reform over the use of police stop and search powers and imposed the very conditions which have been relaxed.
Whilst the Government, has hailed the changes as providing Police Officers with the necessary tools to tackle knife crime, critics have been scathing of the new changes. The human rights group, Liberty has warned that such searches are racially disproportionate.
Indeed, critics have pointed to the fact ‘that in 2014-15 black people were four times more likely to be searched than white people, while in 2017-18, they were 9.5 times as likely to be targeted’. It is also worth noting that the latest statistics show that ‘only 8% of section 60 stop and searches result in an arrest’.
There is concern that these enlarged powers will ultimately prove counterproductive and serve only to alienate the black community. Many argue that the new changes are cheap and regressive in removing reforms of the past.
The Government should be far more proactive in looking at the root causes of violence and it is certainly arguable that the rise in violence has not been helped by austerity cuts, which has removed crucial funds from vital projects aimed at reducing such crimes.