Read the full report Schedule 7: Harassment at Borders here
- Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 states that an ‘examining officer’ is empowered with a broad range of powers to interrogate, search and detain for up to 6 hours, any person at UK ports, for the purpose of determining if they are, or have been ‘concerned’ in the ‘commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism’.
- Under this law, if stopped, you are legally obliged to answer all questions asked by the examining officer, to submit – if asked – to a search of your person and your luggage, to provide your fingerprints, your DNA and consent to photographs being taken of you, and to surrender any electronic devices on your person – as well as the passwords to those devices. Any belongings seized may also be retained by police for up to seven days.
- The most recent amendments under the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act obfuscate the principles of legal representation in respect of Schedule 7. This is achieved by allowing officers to proceed with questioning prior to legal consultation under certain conditions, and by empowering officers to exercise more direct influence over individuals’ choice of legal representation.
- In terms of UK law, Schedule 7 – on these facts alone – is a staggering power in terms of its violations of due process, lack of oversight, and its vulnerability to abuse. It is an affront to the principle of the rule of law and is detrimental to trust between society and state.
- To highlight this, CAGE presents this first comprehensive report into the effectivity of Schedule 7 in terms of its stated purpose. The report, the culmination of years of research, cites academic studies, legal cases and available statistics – as well as the testimonies of those who have been through a stop, to demonstrate the very human cost of the policy and its deep impact on society.
- Statistics support the fact that Schedule 7 stops are based on religious and racial profiling. In 2014, a team of students at Cambridge University – named Operation Insight – found that 88% of its sample of those stopped under Schedule 7 at a particular airport, were Muslim.
- The failure of the government to publish statistics on the religious affiliation of those stopped under Schedule 7 has only increased the volume the accusations that it is being used predominantly, and deliberately against the Muslim community.
- However, and equally troubling, is the abuse of Schedule 7 as an intimidatory and intelligence gathering tactic against activists more broadly. This fits within a wider trend of the improper use of counter-terrorism legislation and the notion of “domestic extremism” that criminalises activism.
- Of the 419,000 people stopped under Schedule 7 since 2009, only 30 of them have been convicted. Most recently, despite stopping over 11,000 people in the year to March 2019, only three convictions were secured. This means that the conviction rate for Schedule 7 stops from 2010 to 2019 – the only years for which the necessary figures are available – is a mere 0.007%.
- It is not clear, however, what these convictions were actually for: they can occur in the case of a failure to disclose passwords, even on the basis of client confidentiality, or a refusal to answer questions – actions that are far from ‘planning acts of terrorism’. Despite this vagueness, which raises serious questions about the utility as well as the actual purpose of Schedule 7, the number of convictions is continually used by proponents of Schedule 7 to justify the power.
- To challenge these arguments, this report demonstrates clearly and definitively that Schedule 7 disregards the norms of due process at every level. Normative criminal law safeguards are discarded under a Schedule 7 stop, permitting and justifying systematic abuses against individuals including ordinary Muslims, journalists, aid workers, and lawyers. As a result, it is deeply counter-productive.
- Key to this is that the stop is done without any evidence or need for suspicion, and as such it violates international privacy norms and laws, since any person – including a child – can be stopped on the basis of what police officers have admitted can simply be a “hunch”.
- In a toxic global climate where many governments do not abide by the rule of law, those who are stopped remain justifiably anxious about how, where and by whom their data is being stored, shared and interpreted. There is also no way an individual can ever challenge this process or remove their information from the system. This means Schedule 7 is in essence a key “collection” point of a huge global surveillance and security apparatus.
- To illustrate this, the report features startling human accounts of Schedule 7 experiences, including a mother who was separated from her 7-year-old son and husband for six hours, several aid workers for whom a stop was the first event in attempts by Mi5 to recruit them, and a father who was separated from his three children and left wondering what was happening to them.
- More than their lack of demonstrable efficacy and evident surveillance function, Schedule 7 powers, are undermining the confidence and relationship of the Muslim community with the state. By not only ‘othering’ and singling out Muslims as a suspect community through laws such as these, but also attempting to justify this discrimination, the state is reinforcing the narratives advocated by far-right organisations, but also much of the mainstream media, as well as by the “terrorist” groups they so revile: that Muslims are not treated as, and will never truly be, a part of British society.
- We must counter this by working for change in ways that hold true resonance with society and its communities. To this end, the report is a call to action members of the different organs of the state, to open more productive and positive discussions on the need to repeal the Schedule 7 law, and embark on an honest and trustworthy path of change, before further abuse can take place and policies become even more counter-productive.
- To members of civil society, and activist groups, we hope this report will serve as a basis for increased demands to repeal Schedule 7, and as a resource to fall back on as they pay closer attention to and document the use of new Schedule 3 powers to target individuals and groups within the emergent framing of political movements as ‘hostile activity’.
- To the Muslim community, we present this report both as a source of information and empowerment, but also as an act of gratitude – for the individuals who came forward to speak about their experiences, who were at all times under the impression that their words might empower others and also bring positive change, to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
- The more we are emboldened to tell our stories, to tell the truth, the more people will understand the injustice and counter it by acting justly. In this way, change will surely come.
Read the full report Schedule 7: Harassment at Borders here
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)