Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes MSP has formally sought support from the Scottish Government for her party’s moves to end the discredited practice of consensual stop and search.
In a letter sent to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson today, Ms McInnes said that the regulatory regime for stop and search must be strengthened, highlighting warnings that current police practice could be successfully challenged in the courts. The Scottish Human Rights Commissioner stated again last week that consensual searches are “almost certainly unlawful”.
The letter has been sent as Scottish Liberal Democrat moves to abolish consensual stop and search are formally lodged at the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat amendments will:
· ensure all stop and searches have a robust statutory footing;
· require Ministers to establish a code of practice, similar to that established in England and Wales, to be approved by Parliament and updated every four years;
· necessitate the Scottish Police Authority to provide an account of the use of stop and search in its annual report to Parliament;
· place a duty upon a constable to consider a child’s best interest when searching them.
Extracts from the letter are as follows:
“I am writing to provide you with details of how I propose to improve the regulation of stop and search and to invite you to support the amendments I have lodged to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill today which will end the practice of discredited consensual searches.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats firmly believe that stop and search can be an effective tool in tackling crime and making our streets safer if it is properly regulated. However, it is intolerable in a mature democracy that the power to search an individual without legal cause has been appropriated by the police without due parliamentary scrutiny or approval.
“My amendments would not limit the already extensive and appropriate statutory powers that police have to search for drugs, guns, knives and stolen property based on suspicion and evidence of a person’s involvement in illegal activity.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats are clear that the police should only be empowered to search someone if they reasonably suspect they are doing something unlawful. We therefore welcomed the First Minister’s indication on 5 February that she is supportive of moves towards ending the practice of consensual stop and search “completely for everyone”.
“Self-regulation and the absence of codification has proven to be woefully ineffective. Indeed, the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner, Alan Miller, has warned that the current police practice ‘is open to legal challenge’ and that this would ‘likely’ succeed. It is therefore prudent to introduce legislation and strengthen the regulatory regime now, rather than resort to emergency reactive measures which the Commissioner has asserted would be ‘an unnecessary and unhelpful way of addressing a problem that can and should be solved today’.