Alarm bells are ringing because of ‘stop and search’ statistics locally

SDLP's Pat Ramsey.  (1005JB04)
SDLP's Pat Ramsey. (1005JB04)

The use of ‘closed’ or secret evidence, and the continued widespread use of stop and search powers is cause for serious concern, writes PAT RAMSEY, local SDLP MLA.

Confidence has always been key to the post-1998 arrangements for policing and justice. It is something the SDLP has always had at the top of the agenda alongside transparency and accountability.

The use of powers such as the power to effectively intern someone like Martin Corey on the basis of secret evidence erodes that confidence, and we have been clear that in other cases such as that of Marian Price, before it became ‘popular’ for others to become involved, that this method is not acceptable and the revocation of license amounts to internment.

We tried to block MI5’s involvement here - others let them have access to security powers - and we successfully blocked the unaccountable National Crime Agency from full powers here because they are unaccountable to the people and their representatives.

The use of stop and search powers from the Justice and Security and Terrorism Acts in this District is something I have monitored.

When I see figures that demonstrate almost 10,000 stop and search operations locally in the last two years, with less than 400 arrests resulting, alarm bells ring.

How many people have been stopped more than once?

The PSNI have a job to do, I accept that,but that has to be finely balanced with resource, and more importantly, the rights of my constituents.

Meeting senior officers has been an ongoing part of my efforts for some time on this issue, and now we will be making representations at a higher level to ensure that a rights-based approach is centre to any policing powers that are there to enable the police to keep us safe, not to be used to harass as some of my constituents have told me.

We recently raised this issue with an Tanaiste, and our submission on the review of the St Andrew’s Agreement, Annex E of which gives MI5 their authority here is very clear – there can only be one type of justice applicable and that is open and transparent justice for all.

Stop and searches, if used properly, disrupt any activity that is aimed at destroying progress, but in the statistics I have I cannot honestly say they are doing that and are not being used as some form of unofficial punishment for those who the police believe to be involved in illegal activities, and their families.

Evidence and transparent justice are our benchmarks; we must defend them against all who would see them removed.