On 31st March 2019 the Home Secretary announced that he was giving more power to the police to exercise the power contained in section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to stop and search without having reasonable suspicion that the person being searched has done anything wrong. As enacted, the statutory power is for any officer at or above the rank of inspector to authorise stopping and searching in a particular locality within that officer’s police area if it is reasonably believed that there has been serious violence, or that serious violence may take place, and that people are carrying dangerous weapons without good reason. An authorisation lasts for up to 24 hours unless extended by a senior officer for another 24 hours.
In 2014, when she was Home Secretary, Theresa May curbed these powers by introducing restrictive guidance on their use. The guidance, entitled “Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme”, provided that only senior officers above the rank of chief superintendent would give authority, and that authority would only be given if it was reasonably believed that serious violence “will” take place rather than “may” take place. This latter requirement essentially meant that the police needed to have specific intelligence before an authorisation could be given. It wasn’t enough just to know that there were probably people carrying knives in a particular locality. However knife crime has risen significantly, with 285 deaths from stabbings in the year 2017-2018.
The announcement on 31st March was that the Home Office will disapply the guidance insofar as it prevents officers of the rank of inspector and above from authorising stop and search under s60, and also that the authorisation can once again be given if the authorising officer believes that serious violence may (rather than will) take place. The change reduces the need for the police to rely on specific intelligence before authorising stops and searches under s60. It will only apply to the 7 police areas which have suffered the worst knife crime recently.