Anti-terrorism powers

Anti-terrorism powers

The Terrorism Act 2000 (TA 2000) and the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATSA 2001) have widened police powers in recent years with respect to terrorism. There are three published codes of practice under the legislation and the Codes of Practice accompanying PACE have been amended to deal with some of the legislative effects.

The most useful and possibly the only up-to-date source of information on these is to be found on the Home Office website.

The powers described below are in addition to all the general powers the police have under other legislation, that is PACE and the common law. They have extra powers at ports and airports that are not included below. This section outlines powers in relation to individuals rather than organisations.

These additional powers apply in the investigation of ‘terrorism’. Terrorism is defined by the TA 2000 as:

The use or threat of action where the action:

  • Involves serious violence against a person;
  • Involves serious damage to property;
  • Endangers a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action;
  • Creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public; or Is designed to seriously interfere with or seriously disrupt an electronic system; and
  • The use or threat of this action is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public; and
  • The use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
T he use or threat of action as above which is not intended to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public will still be terrorism if it involves the use of firearms or explosives.

The term ‘action’ includes action outside the UK. ‘Public’ includes the public of any country other than the UK and ‘Government’ means the government of the UK or part of the UK or anywhere else.

Proscribed Organisations

The Secretary of State has discretion to designate an organisation as a proscribed one, just as he can de-proscribe one. You can find a list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the TA 2000. The list is updated as necessary. Currently it includes Northern Ireland related organisations and many others of which the following are just examples:

Al Qu'ada
Egyptian Islamic Jihad
Al Gama'at al-Islamiya
International Sikh Youth Foundation
Hisballah External Security Organisation
Kurdistan Workers' Party
Palestinian Islamic Jihad-Shaqaqi

Terrorism Offences

Most actions that are usually described as terrorism such as murder, arson, bombings etc. are offences under the general criminal law. However there are some offences created specifically by the TA 2000. These include:

  • Membership of a proscribed organisation or supporting a proscribed organisation.
  • Possession of money with intent to use it for terrorism.
  • Failure to stop a vehicle in accordance with police requirements under the terrorism legislation.
  • Providing instruction or training for the purposes of committing terrorist offences.
Stop and Search


The TA2000 gives the police powers to stop and search both people and vehicles.

If a police officer reasonably suspects that you are a terrorist you can be stopped and searched to discover whether you have anything in your possession that may be evidence that you are a terrorist.

The police can also stop and search people and vehicles (and the people in them) without any grounds to suspect that they are involved in terrorism if an authorisation is in place permitting such searches in that particular location. Such an authorisation (under section 47A of the TA 2000) can only be given by a senior police officer. He/she has to reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism will take place and consider that the authorisation is necessary to prevent it. The area covered by the authorisation and its duration should be no greater than the officer considers necessary. The authorisation can only last for a maximum of 14 days. It will also cease to have effect after 48 hours if it is not confirmed by the Home Secretary within that time.

Searches under a section 47A authorisation have to be carried out by police officers in uniform. The purpose of a search of a person can only be to establish whether that person is someone who is involved in terrorism. Vehicles can only be searched for evidence that it is being used for terrorist purposes. A person being searched can only be required to remove their headgear, footwear, coat, jacket or gloves. Someone who has been searched, or the driver of a vehicle that has been searched, can ask the police to provide written confirmation that the search has taken place.

(NB the search power under section 47A TA 2000 replaces a much wider power under section 44 of the same Act. The Government repealed section 44 (by means of a remedial order under section 10 of the Human Rights Act) in response to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Gillan v the United Kingdom, which held that the search power under section 44 was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention. Section 47A will itself cease to have effect when Parliament passes similar provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Bill.)

Powers of Arrest

Offences under the terrorism legislation are all arrestable offences and there are also specific powers of arrest in the terrorism legislation. You can be arrested without warrant if you are reasonably suspected of being a terrorist. Because of the wide definition of terrorism it may be possible that you could be arrested under the terrorism legislation or other legislation - or even common law - but if you are arrested under the terrorism legislation the other provisions in relation to investigating terrorism come into operation. This arrest power may well be incompatible with Article 5 of the Convention.

Search of Premises

Police powers to enter and search premises without a warrant generally are wide enough to cover most terrorist situations. Nevertheless there are special powers in the terrorism legislation. A senior police officer can authorise a search of your premises if there are reasonable grounds for believing the case is one of great emergency and that in the interests of the state immediate action is necessary.

There are also powers for the police to cordon off certain areas so that they can enter and search premises within the cordon for material that would be of substantial value to the investigation.

The police may also obtain a warrant from a magistrate to search for material likely to be of substantial value to the investigation, provided that there are reasonable grounds for believing it is on particular premises.


The legislation permits terrorist suspects to be detained for longer than other suspects and for them to have fewer or more constrained rights. The maximum period of detention without charge for someone arrested under terrorism legislation is 14 days but this is subject to judicial authorisation. Access to a solicitor, although the latter can be consulted privately, can be delayed for 48 hours, with additional grounds for delay to those that apply to other suspects. The same applies to the right to have someone notified of arrest.
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