Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Commission warns police forces of legal action over use of stop and search

The Commission wrote to Thames Valley Police and Leicestershire Constabulary on Monday 29 November 2010, warning them of possible enforcement action regarding their disproportionate use of stop and search powers.

This follows the publication earlier this year of the Commission’s report, Stop and Think, which found that some police forces are using stop and search powers in a way that is disproportionate and possibly discriminatory.

Thames Valley Police and Leicestershire Constabulary were among five police forces contacted by the Commission in May 2010, having demonstrated significant and persistent race differences in their use of stop and search.  The Commission requested detailed information from these forces on their use of stop and search.

The three other police forces contacted were the Metropolitan Police, Dorset Police and the West Midlands Police. 

The Metropolitan Police and Dorset Police have since embarked on the National Police Improvement Agency’s ‘Next Steps’ programme, designed to help overcome any potential discriminatory stop and search actions.  However, the Commission continues to have concerns over their use of stop and search and will monitor the situation. 

The Commission will be seeking additional information from the West Midlands Police before deciding on what further steps are necessary.

Leicestershire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police were identified for further enforcement action now because neither force was able to adequately justify and evidence the disproportionate use of their stop and search tactics.  

The Commission's comprehensive review of the use of stop and search powers across England and Wales over the past 10 years showed black people are still at least six times as likely to be stopped and searched compared to white people. Asians are around twice as likely to be stopped and searched compared to white people.

John Wadham, Legal Director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: 

'Stop and search needs to be used fairly.  The evidence is that it isn’t and the Commission is acting to try to change this.'

The Commission has various powers it can exercise under the Equality Act 2006 in order to enforce equality and human rights legislation (see notes to editors). The use of stop and search by police forces will continue to be monitored, and if necessary, the Commission will seek additional information with a view to taking further action. 

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

1. The majority of stops and searches in England and Wales are conducted under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

2. The following definitions are used in the Stop and Think report:

  • Stop and search rates by ethnic group are calculated from the number of stops and searches divided by the estimated resident population in that ethnic group. These are expressed per 1,000 people aged 10 and over.
  • Disproportionality ratios refer to the ratios of the stop and search rates for different ethnic groups. These allow comparison of rates for different ethnic groups and are used here to compare black and Asian populations with the white population.
  • Excess stops and searches in comparison with the white population are calculated from the number of black or Asian stops and searches that would result if their stop and search rates were equal to that of the white population in the same area. The ‘excess’ is obtained by subtracting this figure from the actual number of stops and searches. This is equivalent to the product of the size of the black or Asian population multiplied by the difference between the stop and search rates for the black or Asian and white populations. Excesses will therefore be higher where there is are larger black/Asian populations and/or the difference between the black/Asian and white stop and search rates is greater.
  • Figures for stop and search rates for each of the five police forces named are available on request from the press office on the above contact numbers.

The Commission has various powers it can exercise under the Equality Act 2006 in order to enforce equality and human rights legislation. This includes the power to seek an injunction from the County Court under section 24(1) (a) of the Equality Act if the Commission thinks an individual or body has committed an unlawful act or the general power to institute or intervene in legal proceedings including judicial review action under section 30. It can also undertake an investigation into the causes of apparent discrimination under section 20.  The Commission can then issue unlawful act notices and require that person to prepare an action plan to remedy such discrimination: sections 21 and 22.  The Commission may also undertake an Assessment of the compliance with the equality duties and issue a Compliance Notice under sections 31 and 32.

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.  It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.

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