Sabir on Security | The battle against Schedule 7 starts now

Everyone knows that "you have the right to remain silent" when dealing with a police officer, and everyone is wrong. This is what Rizwaan Sabir has come to realise from both his personal experience and academic research. The police have, over the past few years, been given an extraordinary number of powers, including "Schedule 7", that most members of the public know nothing about; and for good reason: these are not only intrusive but often deliberately used to harass, and spy on, campaigners, activists and members of the the Muslim community.

Columns, Sabir on Security - Posted on Friday, August 20, 2010 9:10 - 6 Comments

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By Rizwaan Sabir

The time to rejoice regarding the repealing of section 44 is here, but let’s not get too carried away because even though the battle may have been won, the war is still raging. In fact, we need to start another battle, in this case, against Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Why? because Schedule 7 is a law that undermines not only an individual’s human rights but also almost every facet of the British legal system. Those of you that have been stopped under it and understand your rights will know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you that haven’t had that pleasure, please allow me.

According to Schedule 7, an immigration official, a customs officer or a police officer at any point of entry or exit from the United Kingdom has the power to stop, question, search and examine you for a maximum period of 9 hours in order to determine whether you are a terrorist or not. This isn’t the real reason for the power’s existence, however, but a mere pretext. The real reason, in fact, is to gather intelligence on ‘members of the [Muslim] community’ and Muslims who may be ‘moving towards extremism’, and the law has been drafted accordingly.

I say so with such certainty because I’ve been detained and examined on two separate accounts myself, I’ve also read confirming accounts in a restricted police document through Indymedia which states that the purpose of Schedule 7 is to gather intelligence; even the Special Branch officers that were interviewing me told me that the purpose was to collate intelligence.

When you are detained under Schedule 7, the police have the power to ask you anything they like, regardless of how personal or intrusive it is. If you question the police about such use of this power, they seek refuge in that age-old saying: ‘Sir, we are just doing our job’. It is ironic that they peddle this line because, as the cliché goes, even the Nazis said the same thing at Nuremberg when asked to explain their participation in mass genocide. Needless to say, the argument didn’t stand then and it doesn’t stand now – certainly not with me.

Whilst you are being questioned, ‘you do not have a right to remain silent’, which essentially means that you incriminate yourself as soon as you speak. If you fail to answer any questions or you obstruct the examination, you are in violation of the law and (upon conviction) can be fined and imprisoned, or both. The whole point of ‘having a right to remain silent’ is to prevent self-incrimination. Those of you that have been involved with the police or come from a legal background will understand the phrase ‘adverse inference’ and how it is drawn as soon as you speak in the context of a police-suspect encounter. For those of you that haven’t been in such a police situation, it basically means that the police think you are guilty of a crime and thus understand everything you say through the ‘guilty till proven innocent’ paradigm. The right to remain silent in this context is therefore an absolutely essential right. Incidentally, Schedule 7 is the only power that does not allow you the ‘right to remain silent’.

In a normal police-suspect situation, you are entitled to legal assistance. Under Schedule 7, you are not. You are allowed to inform a lawyer that you have been detained, but the police do not and will not delay their questioning to allow your lawyer to attend – again a power only used in the context of Schedule 7. In the meantime, if you do not cooperate with the police, you are obstructing the examination and can be arrested and charged accordingly. The Police also have a right to search you, your possessions and anything that is linked to you at the port of travel, in addition to being authorised to seize any item in your possession for up to a week if they wish to conduct “further examinations”; in other words, to gather more intelligence on you.

From my encounters with the police, when you exercise your rights and question the police, you are faced with a catch-22 situation: the police begin to think “if you have nothing to hide, why are you exercising your rights? Why are you questioning the police? Why are you being difficult?”

Bizarrely, the respect you have for your privacy and your rights is interpreted as you trying to conceal the truth or having sinister motives. This therefore provides a further excuse for the police to wield their power and investigate you further (or harass you more in my case). In the context of a Schedule 7 stop, this means seizing any item in your possession to collate more intelligence and in any other context means being extremely inconvenienced.

If you have doubts, do try the experiment yourself. I have myself recently begun exercising all of my rights when I encounter the police and it has led to: a search of myself and my car under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a stop and questioning under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and one full mechanical examination of my car at the roadside under the Road Traffic Act. Dare I say, there will be many more instances of such occurrences.

As an individual who has been arrested as a suspected terrorist over 2 years ago, an individual who has been on the receiving end of two separate Schedule 7 stops and subjected to two informal questioning encounters by immigration officers at ports of entry and exit, not to mention the countless encounters in my everyday life involving the police, the nerves and anxiety are incredibly high. It’s only natural. But I’m not alone. I’ve spoken to many people about their encounters with the police and how they deal with them. A common answer is – ‘I get apprehensive and anxious’. The police shouldn’t be causing the public apprehension or anxiety, they should be eliminating our apprehension and anxiety. But the state we live in at present means that the police somehow believe that they are above the law. Ian Tomlinson’s killer, who is as free as if nothing ever happened, is just one example of the police being above the law they are purportedly governed by.

Police powers need to be challenged and re-examined, not only in regards to Schedule 7, but generally and systematically. This includes challenging the very system that awards these powers. The iron is hot and we should strike the hammer accordingly.

Sustained activism is what led to the repeal of Section 44 and I believe that sustained activism can also lead to the repeal of Schedule 7 and other police powers that threaten our civil rights and freedoms. Let’s work together to fight the powers that might not necessarily affect you, but certainly affect others. Another cliché, the oft-quoted passage by Martin Niemöller, is not a bad way of explaining why:

They came for the communists first, and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me and by that time
no one was left to speak up for me.

Rizwaan Sabiris a human rights activist and doctoral researcher at the University of Strathclyde. He is researching the British counter-terrorism and the role of Islam in the UK and Scotland. In May 2008 he was detained for six days as a suspected member of al-Qaida for being in possession of primary research literature. He was released without charge. His column on counter-terrorism and security appears every other Friday.

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6 Comments

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Suzanne Dow
Aug 20, 2010 12:41

Thank you for this. Extremely informative.

Rashid
Aug 20, 2010 13:12

Thanks Rizwaan — essential reading. Was really surprised to read about this as I haven’t heard of it before and there appears to be virtually nothing else about it online.

From what I understand here, Schedule 7 means you can be questioned for the purpose of intelligence gathering and you have no right not to talk to the police. If you refuse to talk, you can be charged with a crime. Meanwhile, anything you say which can be used by the police to incriminate you which you are being forced to talk will itself be used to charge you with a crime. And to top it all, you don’t have a right to have a lawyer present.

Do you know how they have been getting away with this? Should we perhaps be starting with an awareness-raising campaign about the nature of Schedule 7

Rizwaan Sabir
Aug 20, 2010 13:37

Suzzane:

Thanks for you kind words. I’m glad you find this informative.

Rashid:

Yes, your understanding is correct. I think it’s very important to start an awareness campaign regarding Sch. 7 because of the lack of coverage that this draconian and sweeping power has got hitherto and the number of people it has affected. I’ve spoken to so many people who have said they’ve been stopped and questioned at the airport, it’s not even a joke! If a stop is made and the person is detained for less than 1 hour, it DOES NOT have to be logged. Another problematic element of the law.

I think whilst there is a review occurring in relation to the CT powers in Whitehall, it is a good idea to up the anti and try and get some form of spotlight onto it.

Rizwaan

Mik
Aug 20, 2010 16:11

Thanks for bringing your experiences into the public domain. It sounds like a nightmare situation for you and I only hope that we can get active and end these police state tactics.

If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of questions are the police asking in these situations? Are they picking on you because you’ve stood up for yourself in the past and just using these considerable powers to harass you, or do you think they genuinely suspect you? Are there any data out there on how often these powers are being used and who they are being used on?

anonymous
Aug 20, 2010 21:06

Have you any idea if anyone has ever refused to answer questions and, if so, whether they were charged and convicted?

This sounds like one of those cases where a law has been brought in which is of dubious legality, people could easily challenge it as violating any of a number of rights particularly as pertains to due process. So they will use it to intimidate people into answering questions but might be hesitant to try to prosecute under it. A case where I know this happens is the RIPA clause requiring people to give passwords to encrypted data on demand. A minister has said in parliament that it’s never been used. Actually it’s been used once, against a clinically paranoid man whose identity has been concealed. But it has been threatened a lot more times than it’s been used. In one case they sent an order under RIPA to an animal rights activist with a 30 day deadline or somesuch. The activist decided to challenge it in court and simply ignored the order. Nothing came of it. In other words, they’d rather have a law on the books which may be struck down if ever they try to use it but which they can refer to so as to intimidate people, than risk losing it by actually enforcing it.

I don’t know if this is the case, but it would explain why nobody’s heard of it (i.e. it’s never been used or challenged in court).

David Mery
Sep 21, 2010 1:39

Rizwaan, unfortunately TA 2000 section 44 has not (yet) been repealed. Section 44(2) used to stop and search pedestrians has been put on hold and reasonable suspicion is now required for section 44(1) used to search cars. I posted more details at http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/2010/07/halting_s44_powers.html

Mik & anon, see the bootnote 2 at the bottom of the post I just linked for some examples of questions apparently asked during Schedule 7 stops. Rizwaan, it would be interesting to learn if the questions asked to you were along the same line.

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