Use of stop and search powers ‘reduced significantly’ under new rules

Fewer people are being searched under revised stop and search powers in Scotland and police searches are becoming more effective, a review into the practice has found.

Stop and search changes have been “remarkably effective” in reducing the number of police searches, according to an independent study of the powers.

A new code of practice for stop and search powers was introduced in 2017, following concerns about their “counter-productive” overuse.

However, since the guidelines were introduced, there has been a “considerable drop in the number of searches” and officers discover illicit items in a higher proportion of cases.

The review, carried out by the Independent Advisory Group, studied the use of the updated powers and concluded that “the number of relevant searches has reduced significantly and remains much lower than the point in time when there was concern about overuse of the tactic”.

In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Solicitor Advocate John Scott QC said: “Rather than over-reliance on excessive and often counter-productive use of stop and search as happened in the past, officers are now encouraged and trained to make increased use of their skills of engagement with the public”.

Mr Scott added: “For such a major change in police powers and culture throughout Police Scotland, the transition to exclusively statutory stop and search seems to have been remarkably effective.”

The revised code of practice says that the police must have reasonable grounds to stop and search a person, such as suspicions that a crime has been, is being or is about to be committed, or that the suspect is thought to be carrying an illegal item.

The code says statutory searches must be “necessary, proportionate and in accordance with the law” and also includes specific guidance on dealing with children and vulnerable adults.

Stop and search powers in Scotland have been “revolutionised” since their introduction, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said, following the publication of the report.

Mr McArthur said: “SNP ministers from Alex Salmond downwards said they were ‘comfortable’ with industrial-scale police stop and search, and the old system which deemed children under 10 capable of consenting to being searched.

“It is only thanks to the two-year Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign that the stop and search system has been revolutionised.

“As this report shows, it’s been a win-win for both people’s rights and police resources.

“Search numbers have decreased, detection rates improved, and both the police and public can have greater confidence that the system is proportionate and respectful.

“This is good news for the officers who were under pressure to conduct searches they didn’t believe in, and for everyone who agrees with Liberal Democrats that the police must have a good reason to search people.”

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Andrew Cowan/PA)

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I welcome the significant increase in the proportion of searches which have resulted in a positive outcome, suggesting that stop and search is being used in a more appropriate and targeted way, resulting in a more effective use of police time and resources.

“This is testament to the professionalism and responsiveness of the police service, which has delivered significant improvements to the stop and search process over the last few years.

“We will continue to work with Police Scotland and others to consider how best the recommendations in the report might best be met.”

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