By promising to reduce 'unnecessary' paperwork, the Tories would remove the last safeguards for stop-and-search victims
Today is the deadline for the government's submission to the European court of human rights requesting that 17 judges reconsider the original decision reached unanimously by seven judges last year – that being stopped and searched without suspicion under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was a serious violation of the right to privacy. The section 44 test case test case that Kevin Gillan and I took with Liberty set out to demonstrate the scope for misuse and lack of accountability of the power.
Section 44 has often been viewed as Labour's reintroduction of the notorious Sus laws that provoked the 1981 Brixton riots following the police operation "Swamp" – an attempt to cut street crime which used the Sus law to stop more than 1,000 people without suspicion over six days. Recent statistics show that young black people and British Asian people are still six times more likely to be stopped by the police under a variety of search powers than white people.
A powerful new British film, called Sus, will open at the East End film festival on 24 April. Based on a true story, Sus is a harrowing illustration of what can go wrong when police powers are insufficiently regulated. Set on the eve of the 1979 general election, Delroy's pregnant wife has been found dead in a pool of blood. He is brought in under the Sus laws as the main suspect and suffers a night of degrading humiliation from two racist police officers. Rather than seeking to establish the truth, they resort to a brutal interrogation which will shatter Delroy's world forever.
In recent years, a populist campaigning tool of the Conservative party has been to use a "pot calling kettle" rhetoric on Labour's attacks on civil liberties. In the Conservative draft manifesto, while maintaining they will abolish section 44's stop-and-search powers, they still seek to reintroduce old Sus-style searches, eliminating the receipt we are entitled to receive as evidence. Without the form, there is even less accountability and fewer safeguards for the person searched. From the manifesto:
A Conservative government will reduce the amount of paperwork that the police have to deal with, starting by cutting the stop form entirely and reducing the burden of stop-and-search procedures. Any search will still be recorded but by an officer radioing in, rather than filling in time-consuming paperwork.
"Radioing a search in", as the Conservative draft manifesto suggests, does not provide this safeguard. If a police officer needs to search, what appeal do we have against their decision? Submission to the process is the only option to avoid a potentially tense situation accelerating as the receipt demonstrates that we have co-operated fully with the procedure. In the power relations that necessarily exist between the police forces and the public, accountability is a necessary reassurance.
• Sus will open at the Rich Mix Saturday 24 April 8pm, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker, actors Clint Dyer, Rafe Spall and Ralph Brown, and guests Doreen Lawrence, Stephen Kamlish QC, David Akinsanya, Pennie Quinton and Corinne Ferguson