Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides designated ports officers with unique powers to investigate people who pass through the United Kingdom’s borders. Schedule 7 is one of the vital tools police use to help keep the public safe. It allows specially trained police officers to stop, question and when necessary, search and detain, individuals and goods travelling through the UK’s border to determine whether they may be involved or concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
The use of Schedule 7 powers to stop people has been instrumental in securing evidence to support the conviction of terrorists, yielding intelligence to detect terrorist threats and supporting the disruption or deterrence of terrorist activity.
The decision to stop someone is based on the threat posed by the various terrorist groups active in and outside the UK. Decisions will be influenced by factors such as; the origins and/or location of terrorist groups; current, emerging and future terrorist activity; the means of travel and documentation being used; patterns of travel; observation of a person’s behaviour; and/or referrals from other security, transport or enforcement bodies. Stopping someone under Schedule 7 based solely on a person’s ethnicity or perceived religion would be unlawful.
The latest statistics show that the number of people being stopped under Schedule 7 are declining and that it is being used in an increasingly more targeted and accountable way. Officers, who have the power to stop people under Schedule 7 are trained to discharge their duties proportionately and responsibly. As part of their training, they work with community members to ensure they have an understanding of cultural issues.
Counter Terrorism Police teams have an ever-growing number of tactics and tools at their disposal enabling them to make more informed choices and contributing to the decline in the number of stops. Statistics show that fewer than 3 in 10,000 people traveling to and from the UK are stopped at the border using these powers.
How do police decide who to stop? Counter Terrorism Police use a number of methods to decide who to speak to at the UK border. This can include assessments of previous travel to areas of increased terrorism concern; travel using routes, methods or booking behaviours known to be used by terrorists; referrals from other UK border and law enforcement agencies, known or suspected association with terrorists or observations of a person’s behaviour. Officers are specifically prohibited from selecting a person for examination based solely on perceived religion, ethnicity, nationality or any other protected characteristic. Statistics show that fewer than 3 in 10,000 people traveling to and from the UK are stopped at the border using these powers.
How long can a person be held under Schedule 7? 6 hours is the maximum length of time a person can be held under Schedule 7, but most examinations finish within a much shorter time. If the examination is to last longer than one hour the person must be formally ‘detained’ by the examining officer, and doing so provides them with specific legal rights. While the person can be formally detained at any time during the first hour, if this does not take place at the one hour mark, the person must be released or arrested. Every detention is reviewed by a senior officer at intervals of no more than 2 hours.
Where can people find out what their rights are? The full list of a person’s rights while under Schedule 7 examination can be found in the Schedule 7 Code of Practice. At the start of every examination, the person will be given a public information leaflet that explains what the powers are, what the person’s rights and entitlements are, and their duties under the law. If the person is formally detained within the first hour, they will also be provided with a ‘Notice of Detention’ that reiterates their rights and legal obligations.
If the person is formally ‘detained’ for the purpose of examination, they are entitled to consult a solicitor in private at any time, whether in person or by telephone, and this will be at public expense. They will also be entitled to have a friend, relative or other person known to them who is likely to take an interest in their welfare informed of their detention as soon as is reasonably practicable. The exercise of these rights can be restricted in some circumstances, as described in the Code of Practice and on the Notice of Detention. During the first hour of examination only, unless the person has been formally detained, these requests may be granted at the examining officer’s discretion.
Can police take a person’s fingerprints, DNA and photo when they stop someone under Sch 7? Yes. Fingerprints, photographs and non-intimate DNA samples can be taken from a person who has been formally detained for examination under Schedule 7, using powers contained in Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000. The circumstances in which biometrics can be taken are explained in the Code of Practice. Biometric samples taken during Schedule 7 have played and continue to play a critical role in detecting, investigating and disrupting terrorist activity to ensure the safety of the public. Numerous terrorist threats have been detected and disrupted as a result of biometrics taken at the UK border under Schedule 7. In addition to oversight by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, the taking of fingerprints and DNA under Schedule 7 is also overseen by the Biometrics Commissioner.
Do police have the right to search a person and their property under Schedule 7? Yes. If a person is being examined under Schedule 7, officers have a power to search them, as well as their belongings, for the purposes of the examination. This includes searching a vehicle the person is travelling in, but only if the vehicle itself is being taken through the port.
Do the police have the right to detain a person’s property under Schedule 7? Yes. While property is normally returned to the person at the end of their examination, officers have a power to further detain anything they have examined, searched or found during the Schedule 7. Further retention will be for a maximum of 7 days if the purpose is its examination, or for longer if the officer believes it may be needed as evidence in criminal proceedings, or to assist in making a deportation order under the Immigration Act 1971.
Can the police demand passwords for electronic devices ? Yes. If a person is being examined, they can be required to provide any information requested, including passwords and PINs to any electronic devices. They will commit an offence if they wilfully fail to comply with this requirement. The examination of electronic devices during Schedule 7 has played and continues to play a critical role in detecting, investigating and disrupting terrorist activity to ensure the safety of the public. Numerous terrorist threats have been detected and disrupted as a result of the examination of electronic devices at the UK border under Schedule 7.
If someone has questions or concerns about the use of Schedule 7, who should they contact? Any person who wants to raise a question, concern or complaint about the use of Schedule 7 can contact the local force where the Schedule 7 took place (details are on the Public Information Leaflet given to people stopped under Schedule 7) or, in the case of a complaint, the Independent Office of Police Complaints on 0300 020 0096 or at: https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/complaints-reviews-and-appeals/make-complaint
How successful is Schedule 7? Schedule 7 activity at the UK’s ports and borders has had a bigger disruptive effect on the terrorist threat facing the country than any other aspect of Counter Terrorism Policing. The powers are being used in an ever more targeted and effective way. Schedule 7 has featured, and continues to feature, in almost every prolonged, complex or high-risk Counter Terrorism investigation and prosecution undertaken in the UK.