Reforming the law: Police vehicle stop and search powers

New police vehicle search powers – Sections 43 and 44 of the Immigration Act 2016

Imagine that you’re in the car and you are signalled to stop by the police. You stop and you are told that the officer suspects that you are unlawfully resident in the United Kingdom. The police officer then proceeds to check your residency status and searches you and your vehicle. It would be a terrible thing for any British Citizen to experience. Unfortunately, new powers contained in sections 43 and 44 of the Immigration Act 2016 now permit officers to do just that.

IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK? – Reforming the Immigration Act’s discriminatory stop and search powers

 In April of this year my first ever journal article was published in the inaugural issue of the NILS UK Law Review. NILS (Network of International Law Students) describes itself as: 

…an international, independent, non-political, non-profit organisation, run by and for law students. It seeks to promote legal awareness among all the people and encourage communication and cooperation among law students and lawyers internationally; contribute to legal education; promote social responsibility in the field of law; increase opportunities for students to learn about other cultures and legal systems worldwide; and publicise educational and career opportunities in law.

I was really grateful to be published in the first issue of the Law Review and had a fantastic time at their launch event. I thoroughly recommend other law students to write for NILS and details of how to put forward submissions are on their website.

Mum and I at the NILS Law Review launch in April

The new offence and search powers in sections 43 and 44 of the Immigration Act 2016

Section 44 sets out the offence of driving whilst unlawfully resident in the United Kingdom and Section 43 sets out the powers police possess to conduct their search of a person or their ‘premises’.

Last year, STOPWATCH and Liberty produced a briefing entitled ‘Driving While Black’ to call for an end to the discriminatory use of stop on search on Britain’s roads. Focusing upon the new search powers contained within the Immigration Act 2016, STOPWATCH and Liberty put forward concrete proposals for reform: 

Today StopWatch and Liberty are releasing ‘Driving While Black,’  a new report which raises concerns that not only are drivers targeted because they are Black, but a new offence and search powers, which would tie road traffic policing to immigration enforcement, will increase the incentive for racial profiling.

The briefing by STOPWATCH and Liberty inspired me to write this article and the personal testimonies of my family and friends helped bring vital context to my research. We live in an age where xenophobia is so common place in our political rhetoric that we may take for granted how dangerous it is to allow police to stop people based upon suspicions that a driver is unlawfully resident in the United Kingdom.

Discrimination, disproportionality and institutional racism

Given the legacy of institutional racism within Britain’s police forces, these new powers compound the risk of BAME people being disproportionately subjected to stop and search powers. Tied together with suspicion-less vehicle stop powers which have yet to be added to the Government’s reform agenda, the combined use of these powers risks creating a situation where BAME people find themselves racially profiled on the street and on the road. 

The unwarranted and invasive exercise of stop and search powers is the reality for many BAME people, especially those who live in London under the authority of the Metropolitan Police. 

Discriminatory use of stop and search has affected nearly every BAME boy I know who lives in/around the London area. Alexander King, a friend and fellow Warwick student spoke about the issue at the 2014 Conservative Party conference. Alex, who sadly passed away last year, shared his experience of being stopped over 20 times since he was 13 despite having absolutely no criminal record whatsoever.

Alex had a powerful voice and it was heard. Following his speech in 2014, new guidance was created and incidents of stop and search reduced. Yet the problem still persists, especially where police powers to stop and search vehicles are concerned. These new powers are a cause for concern. My article aims to make clear why this is the case and emphasise the importance of following the proposals for reform put forward by STOPWATCH and Liberty. 

I hope you enjoy reading the article. The full version of the journal is available here