Ports police could gain sweeping new ‘armoury of powers’, lawyer warns

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: ADAM BOUGHEY

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: ADAM BOUGHEY - Credit: Adam Boughey

Police at ports such as Felixstowe and Harwich could be given a “bristling armoury of powers” to detain people for up to six hours in a bid to fight crime, a Suffolk lawyer has warned.

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: Mike Page

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: Mike Page - Credit: Archant

Baron David Anderson of Ipswich initially expressed fears over Schedule 3 of the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which he warned also gives officers the “power to download and retain the entire contents of laptops and mobile phones”.

According to the Home Office, the new bill is needed to “update, and close gaps in existing counter-terrorism legislation to ensure that it is fit for the digital age and reflect contemporary patterns of radicalisation”.

Schedule 3 of the act “allows an examining officer to stop, question, search and detain a person at a port or the border area for the purpose of determining whether the person appears to be a person who is, or has been, engaged in hostile activity”, the Home Office has said in a draft code of practice on the new law.

Lord Anderson - a leading barrister from Ipswich who was the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation between 2011 and 2017 - said he had previously “expressed unease at the prospect of some 1,400 ports officers up and down the country being entrusted with these powers and the right to use them without any need for suspicion for the purpose of determining whether members of the travelling public appear to be engaged in activity that, while reprehensible, is perfectly lawful”.

However despite concerns over the powers of the bill, the crossbencher said he had since been given examples which showed the current laws governing port security are “inadequate”.

“I continue to believe that strong coercive powers of this nature should, as a matter of principle, be available only in the context of criminality and that the best way to address any deficit is by amendment or addition to our national security legislation,” he said during a debate on the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill in the House of Lords.

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But until the inadequacy in the current law has been resolved, he said a “pragmatic case, I accept, has been advanced for extending the Schedule 3 power beyond serious crime”.

The Home Office has said the powers in Schedule 3 “must be used fairly and responsibly”.

Lord Anderson has also expressed concern at other parts of the bill, including an “unprecedented” new power to stop UK residents travelling to the most dangerous parts of the world.