Airport Interviews and Suspected Terrorists

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act has recently come into force and governs what the Port and Border Controls (Police) are allowed to do. This schedule, in short, gives power to the Port and Border Police to detain a person for up to 6 hours without them being under arrest. Unlike Police Powers for other offences, the Port or Border Police are not required to have “reasonable suspicion” that an offence has been committed in order to detain a person. If after 6 hours the Port and Border Police have not decided to arrest the detained person they must release them.

Furthermore, those detained are compelled to answer questions from the police and must not “obstruct” or “frustrate” any police searches. If someone fails to co-operate they are deemed to have committed a criminal offence under Section 18 of this schedule and could face up to three months in prison, a fine or both. This means that the Police Caution and the right to silence do not apply. In these cases remaining silent or answering no comment would mean not co-operation and is a Criminal Offence.

Whilst the Police Caution does not apply, anybody stopped and detained by the Port or Border Police for longer than an hour still has the right to free and independent legal advice either in person or over the telephone.

Any property seized by the Port or Border Police must be returned after seven days, but data from mobile phones and laptops may be downloaded and retained by the police for longer.

The Home Office has said that Schedule 7 is an “essential part of the UK’s security arrangements” and that it is for the Police to decide when it is “necessary and proportionate” to utilise this power however many have raised concerns about the low threshold that is required for this power to be used.

Many fear that the low threshold could lead to abuse of this power and people being stereotyped due to their religion or nationality. Human Rights Charity Amnesty International has raised concerns that it violates the principle of fairness and insists that the powers will be used for petty vindictive reasons as was their view in the case of Mr Miranda.

David Miranda is the partner of a journalist for the Guardian who had been involved in reporting about Edward Snowden. Mr Miranda was detained in 2013 for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport before being released. (There has been a recent change in the law that reduced the time a person was allowed to be detailed to 6 hours). Mr Miranda was detained and questioned and his computers were analysed after he had travelled between Berlin and Rio De Janeiro after meeting with a female involved in making disclosures based on documents leaked by the US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Mr Miranda challenged his detention as unlawful at the High Court. In February 2014 three judges, Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Openshaw, concluded that Mr Miranda’s detention at Heathrow under Schedule 7 was lawful, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.