Rights group Liberty has warned the government against draft police guidance that would allow race to be a basis for stop and search operations ‘without suspicion’.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows for a police officer to stop and search without suspicion in a designated area for a 24 hour period.

The proposed changes will alter the binding Guidance issued to police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), which governs the use of police officers’ discretionary powers.

The suggested amendments to the PACE guidance, which govern the exercise of police powers, state that whilst officers ‘must also take particular care’ not to discriminate, there ‘may be circumstances. . . where it is appropriate for officers to take account of an individual’s ethnic origin in selecting persons and vehicles to be stopped’.

Liberty stressed that this proposal flies in the face of recommendations in Sir William Macpherson’s Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence and would also breach the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits race discrimination by public bodies.

Liberty added: ‘These changes also contradict the signal sent by government plans to revise the controversial and divisive powers of stop and search without suspicion under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

‘This followed Liberty’s victory in the Court of Human Rights earlier this year in the case of Gillan and Quinton.’

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said yesterday: ‘Stopping and searching individuals without suspicion is divisive enough without telling police they can directly discriminate on the grounds of race.

‘Significant progress has been made since the Lawrence Inquiry but the Home Office’s planned changes to PACE will set the clock back and jeopardise race relations in the UK.’

The amendments would also mean that police no longer have to record a ‘stop and account’, when a person is stopped by an officer and asked to account for their presence or actions.

The requirement for police officers to record details of all stops, including the self-defined ethnicity of the person, was recommended in the Macpherson Report with the intention of improving accountability and safeguarding minority ethnic communities from institutionalised racism.