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An update on our super-complaint to repeal section 60 stop and search powers

This is a blog by Mark Blake, the CJA’s Policy Manager

In 2021, the CJA submitted a super-complaint[1] calling for the repeal of section 60 police stop and search powers, and more effective community scrutiny of stop and search. After nearly 2 and a half years, we believe His Majesties Inspectorate of Police Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the lead investigating body, will publish their response in the coming weeks.

Our report More harm than good, which was driven by our members, detailed our super-complaint. Shockingly, Black individuals were 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched under these powers, and the surge in section 60 incidents between 2016-2020 coincided with a drastic decline in arrest rates.

Back in 2017, we produced a briefing entitled No Respect, which featured interviews with young people who had experienced stop and search. The briefing also included polling of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people aged 16-30. Three-quarters of respondents felt that these communities were unfairly targeted by stop and search. Additionally, two in five thought that police officers do not exercise their stop and search powers based on fair and accurate information.

In 2019, the CJA launched Stop and scrutinise, a report focusing on the work of local police community scrutiny panels, particularly in the context of stop and search. While some examples of good practice were identified, certain responses highlighted issues of accountability and representation: with almost a third of respondent panels not being chaired by a member of the public but instead by police or Police and Crime Commissioner representatives.

The super-complaint process has been slow, and the context around policing culture, stop and search, and institutional racism has if anything become more entrenched, notably with Baroness Casey’s recent review and her call for a ‘fundamental reset’ on stop and search to help rebuild trust between London’s Black communities and the Met.

Recent events have contributed to the ongoing case study surrounding section 60, and the conclusion of our super-complaint will further contribute to this narrative. On June 16, the then Home Secretary Suella Braverman MP made a statement to the House of Commons, reporting on research evaluating the impacts of changes introduced by her predecessor Priti Patel MP in 2019 to section 60 authorisations, durations, and the rank of the commanding officer who could authorise them.

In recent months, we have responded to two Home Office consultations, both influencing developments around section 60, including our submission on revisions to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE code A). A key point we raised regarding the Home Office’s research on section 60 relaxations was the absence of interviews with people who had been stopped and searched under these powers.

This issue also extends to the HMICFRS response to our super-complaint. We emphasised that this oversight creates an impression that the experiences of those impacted by these police powers are not taken seriously, hindering any objective assessment of the harms and benefits, as highlighted in More harm than good.

The CJA also responded to the Home Office’s consultation on the Draft Community Scrutiny Framework: National Guidance for Community Scrutiny Panels (CSP). Our submission made various suggestions, ultimately challenging the Home Office to recognise the significant contribution that effective, independent, respected, and well-resourced scrutiny functions could make in holding the police accountable in local communities. In our view, the Government has to be more interventionist and critically, take on its responsibilities to create a strong national framework that understands the challenges and power dynamics. Failure to do so would feel like a lost opportunity.

The likelihood of section 60 being repealed under a government emphasising the need to increase stop and search as its primary intervention to reduce violent crime is low (despite evidence to the contrary). However, the imminent launch of HMICFRS’s response provides the CJA, its members, and partners with an opportunity to present a compelling case against it.

We believe the case remains robust, echoing the concerns raised in More harm than good’, within a political and media discourse that often dismisses these genuine concerns. Equally important, we aim to give a voice to those who experience the traumatic effects of these powers.

[1] In 2018, the CJA applied to become a designated body under the new police super-complaint process and was duly appointed in November of that year. The system was established to empower designated organisations to raise issues on behalf of the public about harmful patterns or trends in policing.