Having read the ‘Driving while black’ briefing by campaign groups StopWatch and Liberty, I am in full agreement that stop and search powers currently used by police forces across the UK must be revised.
In their report ‘examining the discriminatory effect of stop and search powers on our roads’ Stopwatch and Liberty say legal sanctions against officers misusing stop and search laws are ‘urgently required’.
They highlight changes they believe need to be made to better protect innocent people from being stopped and searched without good reason, a problem which persists despite Government pledges to tackle the issue.
Under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, police officers are currently able to stop any vehicle without justification or reason. Statistics have shown that black people are still four times more likely than white people to be stopped, a situation which badly impacts on the trust of police across the BAME community, under-mining police-community relations.
When Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) commissioned a survey of
10,094 members of the public about police use of the traffic stop power in 2014, 7-8 per cent of white drivers who responded had been stopped in their vehicles over the previous two years compared with 10-14 per cent of black and minority ethnic drivers.
With a new offence of ‘driving when unlawfully in the UK’ set to be introduced, StopWatch and Liberty have raised concerns about a possible increase in discriminatory traffic stops. They are urging the Government to implement a reform agenda that increases protections against the misuse of existing powers, and to prevent ‘dangerous new provisions’ coming into force.
They are calling for stronger regulations and legally enforceable standards, including a requirement that all traffic stops which target an individual are recorded to include ethnicity data and the outcome of the stop. The briefing also says that individuals stopped should always be provided with details of the officer, including their name and badge number, with sanctions against those who fail to do so.
StopWatch and Liberty are also calling on forces to be made to collate and publicly share data regarding their use of the stop and search powers, placing responsibility on police leaders to more accurately monitor the use of the powers and involve local communities in that scrutiny process.
These entirely appropriate and achievable measures would bring greater transparency and accountability to this controversial area of policing. Many of my clients feel this is an area of law where the police are not held fully accountable for their actions, and still disproportionately target the BAME community. This leads to communities not trusting and having little confidence in the police officers who are there to serve and protect them.
Situations such as this only makes it more difficult for the police to do their jobs efficiently, and as the law intends.
A change of approach ensuring fairness, consistency and greater accountability, is needed.