New stop and search report underlines need for reform

Scottish Liberal Democrats have put further pressure on Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to put all stop and searches on a regulated footing after a House of Commons report showed a stark comparison between use of the tactic by police officers in Scotland, and England and Wales.

It comes after findings from a review by the All Party Parliamentary group for Children into their relationship with the police revealed over 1,000 stop and searches were carried out on children under the age of 10 during the last five years. This stands in stark contrast with figures obtained by BBC Scotland which show that in the space of eight months between April and December 2013, Police Scotland carried out 2,912 searches on children between the ages of eight and 12.

This raises questions about the proportional use of the tactic given the population of England and Wales is ten times larger than Scotland’s.

The use of stop and search in Scotland has been controversial because of the prevalence of voluntary stop and search – those without sound legal basis, intelligence or suspicion. Figures published the Scottish Police Authority’s own review showed that 80 percent of stop and searches on children were voluntary. In England, all stop and searches are placed on a statutory footing, whereby officers must have a legally underpinned cause for suspicion in order to undertake a stop and search.

Commenting on the APPG report, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes MSP said:

“This report puts the scale of stop and search in Scotland into perspective. Figures have shown that in Scotland over the space of one year, police officers carried out 2,912 children between the age of eight and 12. The majority of those searches were on a voluntary basis.

"Over a period of five years, fewer than half the number of children under the age of 10 were stopped and searched in England and Wales. Although not by any means inconsequential, this seems like a speck of dust compared to number of searches carried out on children in Scotland over a much shorter period of time.

"I was pleased that Police Scotland finally agreed to bring some of its policy into line with that of England and Wales. Ending the use of voluntary stop and searches against children under the age of 12 will protect children and their rights. However this report is a stark reminder of how far behind Scotland when it comes to regulating the use of the tactic.

“A change in Police Scotland policy will never be as firm as a change in the law. This is the only way to ensure that searches in Scotland are always legal, transparent and accountable and we will continue to push for this.”

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