Calls for Holyrood to outlaw police stop-searches

Police stop-search tactics are under fire. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Police stop-search tactics are under fire. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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THE Scottish Government is facing calls to outlaw consensual stop-searches amid growing concerns that Police Scotland cannot be trusted to end the practice.

A civil liberties group says ministers must follow their English counterparts and outlaw the practice.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will also today call for “consensual” stop and search to cease immediately with a warning that the “level of trust between police chiefs and the Scottish Parliament is at an all-time low”.

At the moment, police are reviewing the practice and will report back to ministers in March, although it is expected to result in the practice being scrapped.

But regardless of what the police choose to do, critics say the Scottish Government needs to introduce legislation, as the Westminster Government did in 2002, to ensure that police only carry out searches in circumstances where they have explicit statutory power to do so.

Richard Haley, chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said: “Police have evaded accountability and statutory control on this issue for the entire history of the Scottish Parliament.

“This long-standing democratic deficit needs to be addressed.”

He claimed that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who announced the possible police U-turn to MSPs on Thursday, has been acting as a spokeswoman for Police Scotland.

Mr Haley added: “If the existing statutory powers of stop and search are thought by the police to be inadequate for crime prevention and detection, clearly defined new powers should be put before the parliament for debate. It is no solution at all to allow police to make up the rules as they go along.”

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she would consider legislation if the police failed to act on the issue. Police Scotland is consulting with a view to ending the practice. The tactic has proved controversial, amid claims that many people, particularly children, do not know they are entitled to refuse.

Police will still be able to use statutory stop and search where they have reasonable suspicion and suspects are told the legal reason behind it.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie Rennie called for consensual stop and search to be scrapped immediately while the consultation is taking place.

“Last June they [the police] told us no child under the age of 12 would be subject to consensual stop searches by police with immediate effect,” said Mr Rennie.

“Yet, this week we discovered the police carried on regardless. In fact, children were subjected to this practice on more than 300 occasions in just six months.

“Many people will raise a sceptical eyebrow when police chiefs say they are acting now.

“The best way to restore trust would be for the police to end the use of the discredited tactic with immediate effect – for everyone and not just those under 12 years of age.

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland declined to comment further on the issue.