Following requests from the CJA in letters to the Home Secretary and her predecessor, the Home Office has published Equality Impact Assessments (EIA) for the changes to s.60 suspicion-less searches. These changes, which lower both the threshold and seniority of rank required to authorise a s.60 order, were piloted initially in March 2019 in seven police forces before being rolled out nationally in August.
The CJA wrote to the Home Office setting out concerns that the pilot and subsequent roll out were done without any public consultation, without providing evidence to demonstrate their necessity and without due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Given the disproportionate use of suspicion-less searches on BAME people and the impact this has on police community relations and trust in the criminal justice system amongst BAME people, the EIA is a vital document to understand how, given the above, the government demonstrates it is complying with the Duty.
The Duty requires the public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. The published EIAs rightly point out that s.60 is used disproportionately against BAME people and acknowledges that increasing the use of. S.60 searches will ‘pose the risk of magnifying any residual levels of discrimination in the use of this power. We would also expect, given that individuals from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be searched, that any increases in s60 would continue to disproportionately affect them.’
The EIA concludes in relation to police/community relations, that ‘it is likely that more BAME individuals are searched under this power despite not committing any offences, and without being provided with significant person specific justification for searches taking place. Given the potentially negative impact on trust in the police that an increase in stop and search might have, this would probably risk having a negative effect on a part of the community where trust / confidence levels are typically low. Since trust in the police and co-operation with them is often necessary for effective community policing, such changes may create broader issues.’
Meanwhile, the EIAs’ assessment of the potential positive impact of increasing s.60 searches is highly caveated: ‘It is not possible to rule out that a modest increase in the use of S60 stop and searches might have a small positive impact on serious violence offences, if the power is used in a highly targeted way.’
The CJA and EQUAL will be writing to the Home Secretary to seek an urgent review of the changes to s.60 in light of these revealing assessments. We will also raise our serious concerns that, contrary to the government’s stance, the EIAs do not in fact demonstrate compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty. Trust and confidence within BAME communities will only increase where they see the Government and the police acting on the evidence they produce on racial disparities.