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Supreme Court backs 'discriminatory' stop and search

STOP AND SEARCH CONTROVERSY: Judges argue the use of the practice 'saves' black lives

THE HIGHEST court in Britain has been accused of encouraging the discriminatory use of stop and search after five judges said they backed the practice, which disproportionately targets ethnic minorities.

As reported in The Independent on Thursday (Dec 17), five judges dismissed a legal challenge brought by Ann Juliette Roberts from Edmonton, north London, who was arrested for obstructing a search and handcuffed.

Roberts, who is in her early 40s, was stopped and searched in September of 2010 for failing to pay a bus fare and “behaving suspiciously” on the 149 bus route which police argued was used by local gangs in the Haringey area.

She was subsequently tackled to the ground for resisting arrest.

No weapons were found but she received a caution for the incident, which was later cancelled after she was found to be of good character.

Roberts argued that stop and search powers are used disproportionately against black people, breaching their human rights

The High Court and Court of Appeal rejected her case before she took it to the Supreme Court.

In the first case of its kind, judges unanimously ruled that section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which allows random searches, is “in accordance with the law” and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judges argue that stop and search saved black lives by curbing gun and knife crime.

Deputy president Lady Hale, sitting with Lord Clarke, Lord Reed, Lord Toulson and Lord Hodge, ruled there were adequate safeguards in place and “great benefits to the public in such a power”, particularly black people.

She said: “Put bluntly, it is mostly young black lives that will be saved if there is less gang violence in London and other cities.”

The judges added: “It must be borne in mind that many of these gangs are largely composed of young people from black and minority ethnic groups. While there is concern that members of these groups should not be disproportionately targeted, it is members of these groups who will benefit most from the reduction in violence, serious injury and death that might result from such powers.”

The ruling and its justification has been widely criticised by campaigners who described the decision as “disappointing”.

“It is particularly shocking that the Supreme Court justifies the targeting of young black men by associating them with gang violence,” said Natasha Dhumma, of campaign group Stop Watch.

“The young black and minority ethnic people we work with tell us they are sick of such baseless assumptions being used to rationalise their harassment by police through suspicionless stop and search.”

She added: “This judgment speaks to stereotypes, not to the realities faced by many young people across the country."

Commenting on Home Secretary Theresa May’s recent reforms of the controversial practice to make it more targeted, Dhumma went on: “The Home Secretary has been very clear that stop and search must be fair, effective and not disproportionately target the black community. We would urge her to ensure that the judgment does not result in a reversal of the progress made and a return to blanket use of this power.”

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