Can infringements of an individual’s Human Rights ever be justified in the fight against crime, particularly terrorism?’ Critically discuss with reference to police powers.
Human rights, a term which is used in a very common manner, so much so, that it has lost its sheen and the impact with which it should be weighted. In literal sense, human rights are the rights which every human being should be provided in the very basic sense, and included in this is the right to not be harassed, tortured and be given fair chances of living with their own freedom; basically covering the right to live and the right to freedom in doing a number of things, including practising religion (Davis, 2016). However, in the midst of the global turmoil, where terrorism is growing rampant and is causing a threat to the human rights of thousands across borders, initiatives have to be taken to safeguard the human rights and put stop to such terrorist activities, especially by the police force. Ironically, this often includes putting down the very human rights, which are supposed to be protected by the police, when dealing with the threat of terrorism, and in their fight against crime, they infringe upon these very human rights of the individuals (Foster, 2016). This discussion is focused upon these infringements and would also attempt to justify such actions.
The incidents like September 11, the home-grown terrorist attacks in London, and the recent terrorist activities in Paris are just few examples of the increasing terrorist activities in the leading parts of the world, where terrorist activities were none till a few years back. Such incidents result in the right of a person to live in a safe manner being infringed. This requires steps to be taken by the law enforcement agencies towards national security and in doing so there is a need to strike the right balance between the human rights and national security (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2006).
Terrorism is politically and ideologically motivates assaults over the democratic freedoms and rights, which are given to the individuals and which are held dearly by everyone. An important strategy in this regard, for the purpose of countering the extremism through which the terrorism is bred, for winning the contest of ideas, is by defending the fundamental freedoms and human rights in a rigorous manner, which form the foundation of democracy and dignity and makes the societies worth protecting (Combs, 2017). It is important to stop the activities of terrorists before they begin at the smaller levels, for which the law enforcement officials, particularly the police have been given different powers. They can use these powers in cases which they deem fit, for protecting the general public, in terms of their live and dignity (Freeman, 2017).
As on March 31st, 2016, there were 255 terrorism related arrests in UK, where 37 of these arrests led to prosecutions, as per the statistics provided by Home Office. In 2015, 128 extremist prisoners and terrorists were released from custody. The Terrorism Act 2000, under section 43 provides that the police can stop and search any person in case they have reasonable suspicion regarding the involvement of such individual in terrorist activities. Though, the exact number of stop and searches which were carried out based on this section is not known, since the police do not separate the stop and search made under this section, from the same powers given under other legislations. Met does hold this data where they have stated that 541 individuals had been searched under this act in the period of twelve months to March 2016, which was a 32% hike in comparison to the last year. The police can also search the suspects due to the power held by them, even when the suspicion regarding terrorist activities link lacks. The reasonable grounds restrictions was placed back in 2012 May, to curb the unnecessary harassment to the individuals, owing to the bias or prejudice of the policemen, which infringes the basic human rights (BBC, 2017).
The preset powers of the police under the Terrorism Act allow them to hold any person in detention for a period of 14 days without even charging them. The laws were changed back in 2006 to increase this period to 28 days and only six suspects till date had been held for this long. In 2011, the provisions for 14 days were reinstated. From 2011 to March 2016, forty six individuals were detained using this power and only twenty five of these individuals were charged. The longest period for which an individual was held was thirteen days and this happened thrice a year.
The reason why these arrests become a controversial issue is that an individual can be arrested merely on the suspicion of the police officers. The basis of this suspicion could very well stem from their personal bias, or the pre conceived notions. For instance, individuals of Muslim communities have to face such bias often, where due to the Islamic radical groups like ISIS, a lot of hatred is stemmed towards people from Muslim communities. In this regard, even the people of other communities have to face difficulties. For instance, Sikhs are often discriminated against and are called terrorist, due to the similarities between Muslims and Sikhs in wearing turbans and having long beards (Heath and Demireva, 2014). Such notions result in bias from the police force also, where the power of stop and search is used. When such happens, a number of basic human rights are infringed, which includes the right to be free from torture, right to life, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017).
The problem here is that the purpose of such legislative frameworks, in giving power to the police is to protect the individuals and their right to live, their right to be free from torture, and their right to love freely. But in order to uphold these rights, they breach these rights in a different way. This means that the only choice left with the general public is to choose between terrorists or the police force, for the purpose of their rights being infringed. Even though the latter may prove attractive due to the deaths associated with terrorist activities, but the harassment suffered at the hands of police, in regular manners, and being detained for two weeks without being given a proper reason for the same, becomes equally, if not more torturous. Being stopped in public and being questioned by the police becomes a very unsettling experience for the majority of individuals. Till the time the police officers perform their jobs in a proper manner, the rights of any suspect are not violated. This is the reason why the police officers are given immunity from lawsuits where they perform their jobs in a proper manner, and till the time a wilful or unreasonable conduct is established (Find Law, 2017).
The critics of the terrorism related acts and that of the powers of police regarding investigation and surveillance argue that the counter-terrorism legislations are over the board in a dangerous manner and these affect a huge number of individuals, particularly the ethnic minority groups and the peaceful protestors, which undermines the fundamental human rights and civil liberties. The worst of the counter-terrorism laws which have been passed since the year 2000 have been cited as an example of this atrocity. Included in these are the indefinite detention without charging the foreign nations when they are suspected of being involved in terrorism; the 14 day detention without charge, which is the longest period in comparison to other democracies; the unfair and the unsafe control orders which impose intrusive, as well as, severe prohibitions, and include indefinite house arrests for a period of up to sixteen hours in a day without being charged, let alone being convicted; and the now repealed section 44 which allowed for stop and search without suspicion (Liberty, 2017).
There are number of other concerns which have been raised in this regard. There is dangerously, a very broad definition given to the term terrorism, which becomes applicable on the actions which are taken for advancing any ideological, racial, political or religious cause, designed for influencing international organization or the government of any nation or intimidating the members of public across the globe. A number of offences are linked to terrorism, which means that huger numbers of individuals are potentially criminalised. This definition is stretched to the actions which are designed for seriously disrupting the electronic system. The other problem relates to the broad new speech offences in which the encouragement of terrorism is included. This includes making such statements through which the terrorist acts are glorified. Even when the person making such statement does not have the intention of encouraging terrorism, it would be deemed as an offence. So, even when people speak out against repressive regimes across the world, the broad definition of terrorism would criminalise them. Deeming these as offences has a serious potential of infringement of free speech rights (Liberty, 2017).
There is also the issue where photographing something which can be used for a person preparing for an act of terrorism is deemed as an offence. As a result of this, a number of professional and tourist photographers are stopped from taking the photos of police officers and even of landmark buildings. There is also a ban on such political organizations which are non-violent, which results in effective state censorship of political views, which puts an end to healthy debates. The police officers also have the power of questioning, detaining and taking DNA at border or port before a person enters or leaves UK, in order to find if such individual is involved in terrorist acts, even without reasonable suspicion. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 allows the Minister to make emergency regulations where threat of terrorism is present. All these actions infringe upon a number of human rights of individuals (Liberty, 2017).
Even though all these items raised valid points, one cannot deny that these powers are needed to be given to the police, so that they can take the necessary measures in stopping any incident from happening, as took place in Paris or London in form of terrorist attacks (Kitching, 2017). The police does not simply use the stop and search for harassing people; they use it as an important tactic which provides them with a means of allaying and confirming suspicious regarding the individuals without exercising their power of arresting. When it is used in a proportionate and appropriate manner, it results in increased community confidence towards police and also makes a positive contribution towards the reduction of fear of crime. The police use a proper manner for using stop and search in order to be lawful and be complaint with human rights. This is the reason why the police make use of ‘Plan B’, which stands for proportionality, legality, accountability, necessity and best (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010). Yes, there have been cases where police has used its powers in an excessive manner, which results in infringement of the human rights, but it is necessary to use these measures. These are needed to take timely action to foil the terrorist plans and to protect the lives of thousands. So, even when doing so might infringe upon certain rights, these are needed to ensure that the individuals are alive to enjoy these rights.
Thus, the previous segments covered the different powers which have been given to the police force, particularly in UK, for saving the general public from the threat of terrorism. The prominent one in this regard is stop and search, which is often cited as a breach of human rights of an individual. However, the pace with which the terrorist activities are rising across the globe, justify the adoption of such power being given to the police. These are necessary for the individuals to have a life. Even though this results in their freedom being put at stake at times, but this is not the case every time, as the police takes special care in following the law properly while carrying on activities like stop and search. Without such powers, the terrorists would continue to play with the life of millions, which cannot be tolerated in any case.
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Combs, C. C. (2017) Terrorism in the twenty-first century. Oxon: Routledge.
Davis, H. (2016) Human Rights Law Directions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Freeman, M. (2017) Human rights. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.
Heath, A., and Demireva, N. (2014). Has multiculturalism failed in Britain?. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(1), pp. 161-180.
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Liberty. (2017) Overview of terrorism legislation. [Online] Liberty. Available from: [Accessed on: 18/12/17]
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