I Have Been Stopped Under Schedule 7 Of The Terrorism Act 2000. What Are My Rights?
On 25 July, a Welsh woman returning from holiday in Portugal was stopped by officers at Bristol airport. She was taken aside, questioned, detained and had her DNA and fingerprints taken. She was questioned about her suspected involvement with the Kurdish political party, the PKK, which the UK Government considers a terrorist organisation.
The woman said that she had been an advocate for Kurdish rights in Turkey since teaching English in the country 30 years ago and had organised a Kurdish cultural event in Cardiff in 2022. She was confused as to why she was questioned and detained and said that she was not interviewed under caution so did not know whether the interview was being recorded.
The woman also reported that friends in the Kurdish community in Cardiff had also been stopped and questioned when travelling overseas.
What is the law surrounding this woman’s questioning, and did the officers have a right to detain her?
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a significant power to stop, question, search and detain people entering or leaving the UK. This power can be exercised by a constable, immigration officer or customs officer who is designated for this purpose.
The powers are designed to allow officers to determine whether the detainee falls within section 40(1)(b) of the Act.
Section 40(1) (b) says the following:-
(1) …“terrorist” means a person who—
(b) is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
A critical point to note is that under Schedule 7 paragraph 2(4), an officer can stop, question and detain someone whether or not he has grounds for suspecting that that person falls under s40 (1) (b). There need not be any connection between the persons travel and the questioning carried out; those coming back from a family holiday would equally exposed as those travelling to or from a war torn country.
An officer can also question a person in the border area to determine whether their presence is connected with them entering or leaving Northern Ireland.
Under Schedule 7, an officer can detain a person for up to 6 hours (which starts from the beginning of questioning) under paragraph 6 and under paragraphs 7 and 8 and officer can search a person’s property and person.
Examining officers can detain property for up to 7 days or as long as he believes it may be needed as evidence in criminal proceedings or it may be needed in relation to a deportation decision.
Connection to criminal proceedings
Questioning under schedule 7 is very different to questioning by police under caution: there is no right to silence and no right to have a lawyer present. Anything said during questioning under schedule 7 cannot be used in evidence in criminal proceedings (para 5A (1)) save in limited circumstances where proceedings relate to the giving of false evidence under schedule 7 questioning.
A person questioned under schedule 7 must answer the questions asked of him and provide any document for inspection. A failure to do so would be a separate offence. Under paragraph 18, if someone fails to answer any of the officer’s questions, contravenes a prohibition imposed under the schedule, or obstructs or frustrates a search or examination, that person may commit an offence. If they are then found guilty of an offence under the Schedule, they could receive a sentence of up to 3 months imprisonment, a fine of up to £2,400 or both.
Any property which is detained, including electronic devices will be inspected. Any incriminating material found may then be the result of a formal criminal investigation and could lead to arrest.
Scope of the power
The powers in Schedule 7 are regulated by a Code of Practice. Paragraph 18 of the Code states that the powers must be exercised in a manner which is proportionate and does not discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age, race, religion or belief, gender or sexual orientation and to do so would be unlawful. This still leaves scope for abuse of the power.
There is no limit on the number of times someone can be stopped under schedule 7 and the powers can be exercised against children as well as adults without restriction.
Recent amendments were introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 undermine paragraph 18 of the Code. Prior to the amendment, the power was restricted solely to ports (including seaports and airports). The 2022 Act amended the Schedule so that the power extends to a person who has arrived into the UK by sea from outside off the UK and where the person was apprehended within 24 hours of the person’s arrival on land. The definition of a ‘ship’ for the purposes of the act was also changed to ‘any floating vessel or structure’. This amendment was made in response to the migration of asylum seekers on small boats across the English Channel. There is a very real risk that those travelling in ‘small boats’ will be targeted by officers exercising this archaic power.
Schedule 7 creates significant powers. The scope of the powers is wide and the consequences severe for what is made to sound like a mere information-gathering exercise for counter-terrorism officers. Counter-terrorism is no doubt important, however there is an important line to be drawn between the public interest in catching international terrorists and the interference with individual’s private lives and freedoms.
If a human rights advocate and University teacher can be stopped by officers on her return from holiday, one would wonder where officers draw this line.
If you have been stopped travelling in or out of the country, you should speak to one of our criminal law experts to ensure you know your rights and the possible consequences. Call 0808 271 9413 or request a call back online.