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CAGE seeks to curb abuse of Schedule 7 powers

26th Oct 2017
CAGE seeks to curb abuse of Schedule 7 powers

CAGE’s Muhammad Rabbani to appeal against court ruling. Photographer: Abdullah Baily/CAGE

Hamed Chapman

 

Britain’s much maligned Schedule 7 powers enacted under the Terrorism Act 2000 have again come under fire with the international director of a human rights campaign organisation set to appeal a controversial conviction over refusing to hand over passwords to his mobile phone and lap top.

Muhammad Rabbani of CAGE  was found guilty at Westminster magistrates’ court last month of wilfully obstructing police while being detained under the controversial Stop and Search powers at Heathrow airport in November last year though instead of being sentenced he was given a conditional discharge for 12 months and ordered to pay £620 in costs.

His lawyers plan to appeal to the High Court against on the grounds that existing police powers do not sufficiently protect privacy or legally privileged material.

The verdict effectively confirmed that police have the powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to demand access to electronic devices and that refusal to cooperate is a criminal offence.

Rabbani, who has previously been detained under Schedule 7 on more than 20 occasions, was stopped again when he was returning from a wedding in Qatar at which he had met a man who alleged he had been tortured in the United States. He had downloaded evidence about the allegations onto his laptop and iPhone in order to bring it back into the UK so that he could pass it on to British lawyers.

For refusing to hand over his passwords, he faced up to three months in jail and a heavy fine, though he had refused on two previous occasions without being arrested and charged. The issue was so important that he said he had been prepared to face the outcome “even if it meant a term of imprisonment.”

“I have been convicted of protecting the confidentiality of my client. Our only option is to change the law. We will be appealing this decision,” the CAGE  Director said outside the court after the verdict.

His solicitor Gareth Peirce said it was a “mockery of the concept of due process” and the implication was that at the point of entry to the UK, suspects faced a dilemma “like a gun being put to your head” by the police. “The process of examination in court shows that there are no satisfactory protections (of legally privileged material),” she warned.

In court, Henry Blaxland QC, for Rabbani, said that the Stop had not been lawful. His client was not stopped for the purpose of a police inquiry into the preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism according to Schedule 7 but was detained for a “collateral purpose.”

In a statement given to officers after he was arrested, Rabbani clarified that although he considered that the police were in law entitled to ask questions so that they could satisfy themselves he was not engaged in terrorist activity, it did not justify being required to “expose all the sensitive contents of my phone to being copied and undoubtedly disseminated not just to police but to intelligence services and possibly elsewhere in the world – an unjustifiable, uncontrolled acquisition of material.”

Recent articles have claimed that material obtained through port stops had been shared with GCHQ, the Government’s monitoring organisation, and overseas intelligence services. They follow when the alleged abuse of Schedule 7 first came to international attention in 2013, when David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained under schedule 7, also at Heathrow. Miranda was held because authorities believed he was carrying files relating to Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistle-blower, but it was later ruled that authorities had acted lawfully.

CAGE , which was established in 2004, itself monitors the way security operations and anti-terror laws affect the Muslim community within the UK and abroad. It campaigned against extra-judicial rendition of suspects to Guantanamo Bay.

The judgement confirms that a person can “fall foul of terrorism laws” for protecting client confidentiality,” the campaign group said. “The principle of presumption of innocence, the principle of client confidentiality and the principle of personal privacy are all too important to surrender even with the threat of conviction.”

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, which gives police sweeping powers to search and interrogate individuals at ports of entry in Britain without grounds for suspicion. People can be questioned for up to six hours and have no right to remain silent. The law has frequently been criticised by human rights groups for its allegedly discriminatory implementation and impact on civil liberties.

Among others, Liberty rights group has described the law as “breathtakingly broad and intrusive” and said ethnic minorities were disproportionately targeted with Asians 42 times more likely to be stopped than white people. “We’ve long argued that Schedule 7 is ripe for misuse and discrimination,” it has argued.

“We believe it contravenes the basic rights to liberty and respect for private life, as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, and is therefore unlawful.”

Between 2009 and 2016, British authorities carried out 400,058 “examinations” of people under the discredited Schedule 7 powers, an average of about 50,000 per year, or 137 every day, yet it leads to very few arrests or anyone being charged with any terrorist crimes.

 

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