‘These powers constitute a serious erosion of civil liberties in this country. They will change the relationship between the police and the individual fundamentally,’ Doug Jewell, human rights group Liberty campaigns coordinator told News Line yesterday.
He was referring to new police powers that come into force on January 1st whereby officers will have unlimited powers of arrest.
Jewell added: ‘The government is merely announcing that the powers come in which are part of the Serious and Organised Crime Act passed earlier this year.
‘We warned at the time that they were being rushed through without proper debate.
‘Like clause 44 of the Terrorism Act, people said they are unlikely to be used, that police would not arrest someone for dropping a piece of paper.
‘But these are real powers and are there for the police to use.’
From January 1st, police will have powers to arrest anybody suspected of any offence, however minor, from dropping litter, painting graffiti, not wearing a seat belt, through to the most serious offences such as murder.
Up to now police have only had power of arrest for crimes that carry at least a five year jail sentence.
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said it is ‘disproportionate’ to make offences which could not carry a prison sentence arrestable.
As well as all offences being arrestable, police will get powers to obtain search warrants to cover more than one property, one search and to stay in force longer.
Community Support Officers will get a range of new powers, including to search detainees.
Police will be able to take drug tests on arrest rather than only when a suspect is charged.
They will be able to surreptitiously take DNA samples, and covertly take fingerprints and shoeprints.
Police will be issued with digital cameras to take pictures of alleged suspects without their consent.
They will have a new power to stop and search under-18s suspected of carrying fireworks.
And they will be able to issue fixed penalty fines to pay for more use of automatic number plate recognition technology.
There will be a new offence of having an incorrectly registered vehicle.
Home Office minister Hazel Blears claims the aim of the new laws, which are being introduced in the Serious and Organised Crime Act 2005, is to ‘modernise’ and ‘simplify’ police powers.
She said yesterday: ‘The introduction of a single rationalised power of arrest simplifies arrest powers and requires police to consider the “necessity” of the arrest.
‘This means that the officer has to focus on the individual circumstances of the case and the needs of the investigation.’
Blears added ‘these tough new powers make a significant contribution to creating a modern, efficient police service’.
• see editorial page 6