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Home Office in U-turn over ‘discriminatory’ plans to give police more stop and search powers

The department has admitted its own equality assessment wasn’t up to scratch.

Priti Patel has U-turned on a decision to permanently give police greater stop and search powers after admitting that official equality advice was inadequate.

The Home Office permanently scrapped safeguards which limited discrimination risk from stop and searches in July, but has now been forced to reverse the decision after campaigners argued the decision was unlawful.

Human rights groups Liberty and StopWatch argued that the changes would have a disproportionate impact on Black people and launched judicial review proceedings against the department.

The Home Office has now admitted that its equality impact assessment, used to inform the decision, was inadequate and says it will reconsider its position and make another decision.

In a letter seen by The Big Issue, the Home Office admitted that “it has come to light that at the time the decision was taken, the equality impact assessment put before the home secretary did not contain a full analysis of the available options.”

In the letter, the department says it will reverse the decision made in July and do a new equality impact assessment.

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Section 60 powers let police search people without reasonable grounds. The Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS) guidance, introduced by Theresa May in 2014, included voluntary conditions restricting the use of these powers.

These include the condition that it must be a senior officer authorising the powers, and that police must believe serious violence “will” take place.

The BUSSS safeguards had been weakened and then suspended since 2019, before being abolished entirely in July 2021.

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Liberty and StopWatch argued scrapping the measures entirely would have a “particularly detrimental effect on young Black men and boys”, and said just one per cent of section 60 stop and searched result in an arrest for possession of weapons.

Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people, official figures for England and Wales show.

In their letter launching judicial review proceedings, the groups said the Home Office’s decision breached the Equality Act, and the European Convention on Human Rights – because of the disproportionate impact stop and search has on ethnic minority communities.

The safeguards are now simply suspended while the Home Office makes a decision – though the department admitted in its letter that “this is no different in substance to the present position.”

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Habib Kadiri, StopWatch research and policy manager, said: “A cursory glance at the evidence on the use of the power shows why restrictions were needed in the first place, and the subsequent drop in annual arrest rates suggests that even the suspension of safeguards should be reversed.”

Lana Adamou, the Liberty lawyer working on the case, said: “The Home Secretary’s U-turn over the decision to get rid of the safeguards is welcome, as is her admission that the equality impact assessment used to inform it wasn’t up to scratch. 

“Failing to properly consider the equality impacts in the first place is indicative of a Government which is content to cut corners and bypass legal processes at the expense of people’s basic rights. We now need to see the safeguards reinstated for as long as Section 60 remains on the statute book.”

 A Home Office spokesperson said:”We fully support stop and search, which enabled police to remove almost 16,000 dangerous weapons from our streets in 2020-21. Every weapon seized is a potential life saved.

“The Home Secretary was recently made aware that official advice put to her regarding permanently relaxing voluntary conditions on Section 60 did not contain a full analysis. As is right, she will consider the Government’s position again when provided with fresh and full advice, to make sure that any decision is based on a comprehensive assessment.”

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