Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time when they believe, with good reason, that: there is the possibility of serious violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality. This law has to be authorised by a senior officer and is used mainly to tackle football hooliganism and gang fights.
As we can see from the general advice here, a section 60 order is designed to cover a specific area (the Act calls this the 'locality') at a specific time. An order can be up to 24 hours if authorised by an inspector or 48 hours if by a superintendent. The decision of the Metropolitan Police to treat an entire city (the nation's capital no less) as a locality for the purposes of this provision is cause for grave concern and makes the wording of the Act appear quite ridiculous. It certainly would be reasonable to imagine that on any given day in Britain's capital city, there will be at least one act of serious violence or one person carrying a dangerous or offensive weapon somewhere. Indeed, the larger the area prescribed in the authorisation, the greater there is likelihood of serious violence. The police might as well just authorise a section 60 order across London every day!
There has been a Freedom of Information request for the written authorisations (the Met Police publication is no longer available). A similar request had already been made in relation to the Notting Hill Carnival order. The explanation for the decision goes as follows:
A Section 60 and 60 AA authority has been put in place across London. The decision has been taken to support the pan London policing operations to keep the capital as safe as can be. The rationale is based on current police intelligence and in light of the disorder that was seen in London during 6 - 9 August 2011Hmm, no. Sorry, that doesn't cut it. The riots are a convenient excuse. A city should not be regarded as a locality for the purposes of that Act. To do so makes a mockery of it. Even the same publication makes a mockery of itself. Though I can no longer find that publication, I had quoted from it and it's almost exactly the same as the advice given in the FAQ, to wit:
Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time when they believe, with good reason, that: there is the possibility of serious violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality. This power has to be authorised by a senior officer.Here's what really gets on my wick about this citywide use of stop and search. In order for this legislation to be reasonable, a person needs to be able to avoid the area to which the order has been applied. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is implemented in Britain as the Human Rights Act 1998, protects our right to privacy. This would prohibit suspicionless searches under normal circumstances. The trouble with defining an entire city such as London as a locality is that for those who live and work in the city, there is no escape. If you look at a section 60 authorisation form (I can't find one at the minute), you can see the suggestions given to help specify the locality include such language as "street names". I wonder, did the authorising officers simply write "London" in that space? UPDATE: Here is an authorisation form courtesy of @piombo.
Unfortunately it seems that this provision in the Act is just another of these poorly worded disasters that can be manipulated by an authority seeking to expand its powers. This was hinted at in 2003 when the Metropolitan Police Authority published to its members further information about section 60 of the Act. See paragraph 7 (emphasis mine):
7. The term ‘locality’ is not defined, however the authorising officer should not set a geographical area that is wider than necessary for the purpose of preventing anticipated violence. The officer should take into account factors such as the nature and venue of an anticipated incident, the number of people who may be in the immediate area of any possible incident, their access to surrounding areas and the anticipated level of violence. If the area specified is smaller than the whole force area, the officer giving the authorisation should specify either the streets which form the boundary of the area or a divisional boundary within the force area.We can see that the MPA were aware that the Act did not define the term "locality" and hinted that a locality could be specified so that it encompasses the whole force area (such as London, for example). "Should not" - don't you just love that type of language? I can't understand how this was allowed to go unchallenged, but there it is and here we are. I think it's a disgrace and I'd really like to see this view challenged in court. The clear message I'm getting is that ever since the UK riots of August, the people (of London anyway) cannot be trusted to assemble. That's bullshit. The designation of an entire metropolitan area as a locality for stop and search cannot be what Parliament intended and it should not be tolerated.
ps - Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been a bit ill and frankly overwhelmed with all the things there are to write about. Had to just get over the inertia and get something down.