Schedule 7 – Article

The Power of Nightmares [1]
Erosion of Civil Liberties under the Terrorism Act 2000

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides powers to “stop, interrogate and search” people at ports, airports and “border areas” in the UK without the need for any reasonable suspicion. Playing on the fear of the threat of terrorism in the UK, laws such as this are brought in by the government and are then used for purposes other than the official intentions. Police forces covering border areas and ports should provide information regarding Schedule 7. However, phrases such as “the threat of terrorism is real and serious” and “we have a duty to protect our communities from terrorism” along with stating that we all have to do our part to prevent terrorism are included alongside this information.

We can also find plenty of comments online regarding our civil liberties and having to give up some freedom in order to be safe. But how safe does this really make us? Entire articles could be (and have been) written on this subject, so I shall focus specifically on what Schedule 7 actually is and when, where and how it has been used.

The Law

Described as “the most draconian stop and search power” and “a law that undermines an individual’s human rights and almost every facet of the British legal Structure” [2] Schedule 7 is increasingly being used by police officers and  UKBA (UK Border Agency) officials in order to stop and search people traveling.

Police Powers

Under the legislation, police have the power to question a person for up to 9 hours without arresting them, strip-search a person and search their belongings and any vehicle they have with them (there is no requirement to provide a written notice of any search). They may also take and retain DNA samples, fingerprints and take photographs and confiscate property for up to a week for further examination. You must hand over any documentation and give officers any information which they ask you for. Failure to comply constitutes an offence for which you can be arrested and officers have the right to use reasonable force to detain you for examination.

Your Rights

The “right to remain silent” has been a prominent right in British history, the origins of which have been attributed to the Magna Carta in 1215. Schedule 7 does not allow for this. Unless you are in a place designated as a “police station” by the Secretary of State, normal and basic procedural rights (such as a phonecall, the right to silence and to have someone informed of your situation) do not apply.

You do have the right to ask for a solicitor to be informed of your stop. However, the examination will not be delayed to wait for a solicitor to arrive. You are legally obliged to answer any question put to you even before the arrival of a legal representative. Again, it is an offence if you fail to comply and you can be arrested and held for longer.


Home Office statistics [3] show that 63,902 people were stopped and examined in border areas in 2011/12 under this legislation. 2,240 were held for longer than an hour. There seems to be no data available as to how many of these stops resulted in arrests, however all of the successful convictions of people detained at ports and airports were the result of prior intelligence on those individuals and not random searches.

For stops and examinations which lasted less than an hour, 27% of those stopped were of Asian background, 21% were described as “Other” (including Mixed and Chinese nationalities) and 8% were Black. For stops that extended for more than an hour, these percentages are even more pronounced. For example, despite comprising roughly only 11% of the population, “ethnic minorities” made up 77% of the figures [4] Despite needing no prior suspicion of terrorist activity in order to “randomly” stop people, it is obvious that stereotyping and racial-profiling are factors in choosing whom to stop at the borders.

Communities report erroding trust and confidence in the police now that these stops have become a routine part of travel for many of their members. [4] During the Counter-Surveillance Conference [5] held in London in April 2011 and co-hosted by NetPol partners, FITwatch and Campacc, personal experiences of being stopped under Schedule 7 were shared by various people. A Muslim speaker reported being detained when returning to the UK one year and being asked if he knew the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. Questions are routinely asked regarding detained persons’ social and political views.

Political Activists

Numerous political activists have reported being stopped and interrogated by police upon entering the UK in recent years. Two animal rights activists were stopped in 2009 when returning from a gathering in Norway and questioned at an airport in the UK. One states that she refused to answer any questions and repeatedly asked the officers why they had stopped her and her friend. She was surprised that they decided to release her and not arrest her for obstruction, though this may be because her daily life was already being monitored by police.

In 2012, two anarchists were returning from a gathering in St Imier, Switzerland when they were detained by British police. According to a statement released by the UK Anarchist federation and quoted on the “Statewatch” website [6] the two were asked a number of “inflammatory, irrelevant and offensive questions” and information was copied from passports, literature, cameras and mobile phones as well as DNA samples and fingerprints being taken.

In early 2013 two Corporate Watch researchers returned separately from a research trip in Palestine and were both stopped at Luton airport. Both are long-term campaigners whose work and opinions are regularly made public through the Corporate Watch website and during public meetings and talks. Both had been stopped under Schedule 7 on other occasions in the past. On each occasion, questions were asked about Corporate Watch as an organisation, how it was funded, how the two had traveled, where they had come from, what they were doing there and so on. More information about this can be found on the Corporate Watch website. [7]

Despite ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidance to the law stating that Schedule 7 “should only be used to counter terrorism and may not be used for any other purpose” we have seen (as it has also been reported by NetPol) this law frequently being used to gather intelligence about activists. It is apparent that the Terrorism Act 2000 is being used to expand the profiles of activists held on police databases. Statements by Special Branch officers such as “we don’t get a chance to talk to you very often” show that they are using this unique piece of legislation in order to get answers to questions that would usually be ignored in regular police station interviews.

In a statement by NetPol to Corporate Watch, they suggest that “in the wider scheme of things, Schedule 7 is being used as yet another way to create a ‘climate of fear’ around any form of political activism”. [7]


Many people believe that the law is “too broad, overused and leaves innocent people feeling humiliated and criminalised” [8]

Schedule 7 is not the only part of the Terrorism Act to have attracted criticism and concerns from the public and various people in the legal profession. In January 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that section 44 of the Terrorism Act was unlawful as it was too broad and lacked sufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties. This stop and search power had been used more than 148,798 times in 2009 alone and had never helped to catch any terrorists. Having been used against numerous people attending demonstrations, two activists decided to take their case regarding this law to the courts [9]

Before the ruling, section 44 had been used as a blanket power allowing police to stop and search anyone they wanted to without suspicion that the individual had any connection with terrorism. It was increasingly used to stop school children, journalists, peace protesters, people from ethnic minorities and political activists at demonstrations. After its repeal, police had to rely on using section 43 of the act which requires them to have reasonable suspicion about a person.

Of course, police powers are constantly being abused and misused and we still see blanket powers being used across the country – including section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These, however, do provide some restrictions on what officers can do.


Following a review of the use of Schedule 7 which included a public consultation running from 16th September to 6th December 2012, the Home Office are considering making changes to the legislation in order to ensure operation and powers are necessary and proportionate. These potential changes include:
– reducing the maximum examination period (currently 9 hours)
– requiring a supervising officer to regularly review detention (as in police stations)
– examining officers to be accrediated and trained in using Schedule 7
– giving people the same rights to publically-funded legal advice as they would get if arrested and taken to a police station in normal circumstances
– amending the basis for strip-searches to require suspicion and authorisation by a supervising officer
– repealing the power to take DNA samples from detained people

Unfortunately, these changes (if they are made) still won’t prevent racial profiling and misuse of powers. If you would like to read the full legislation, go to and search for “Terrorism Act 2000”

[1] “The Power of Nightmares” is a title taken from a documentary by Adam Curtis (tag-line “the rise of the politics of fear”)

[2] Rizwaan Sabir, “Schedule 7: A Law Unto Itself” (2010)
Rizwaan Sabir is a human rights activist and doctoral researcher at the University of Strathclyde. He is researching the role of Islam and counter-terrorism in British and Scottish government discourse. In May 2008 he was detained for six days as a suspected member of al-Qaida for being in possession of primary research literature. He was released without charge.

[3] “Operation of Police Powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes and stop and searches Great Britain” (2012)

[4] – Schedule 7 Factsheet (pdf)

[5] Network for Police Monitoring, and Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

[6] “Police use anti-terror powers to detain anarchists on return from conference in Switzerland” (August 2012)

[7] “Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000: A police snooping tool to protect private profit” (February 27th, 2013)

[8] Zin Derfoufi, Guardian newspaper 26th May 2011

[9] Case of Gillan & Quinton v. The United Kingdom, Strasbourg (2010)