Do we need to start educating Scotland’s primary school children about their rights?

Shocking figures show that police in Scotland have stopped and searched 750,000 people in the last year. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research report also found that 500 children under 10 were stopped and searched in 2010 alone.  This has caused concern from human rights and children’s organisations.

Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, Tam Baillie, writing in the Herald said:

On any reading, it is clear that young people are being targeted and there will be times when their rights are being infringed.

In a the country that claims to be committed to children’s rights and wants to be the best country in the world in which to grow up, this needs to be addressed urgently.

The Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission was also worried:

The recent increase in the use of non-statutory powers of stop and search [i.e. where there is no reasonable suspicion of the person] is particularly concerning. According to Police Scotland these amount to 70% of the almost half a million searches conducted between April and December in 2013. Such an increased and extensive use of this form of stop and search power can, dependent upon the circumstances, be unlawful, be carried out without informed and freely given consent, and have a longer term adverse impact upon police and community relations. Scotland should not be repeating the mistakes and lessons learned in England and Wales, where the use of stop and search is reducing.

One person isn’t worried one little bit, though. Step forward First Minister Alex Salmond who pretty much shrugged his shoulders and said “so what” when questioned by Willie Rennie today. You can watch the whole thing here from about 18:30. Willie asked Salmond if he was comfortable with that high number of searches on children who are hardly in a position to consent. The First Minister again showed that he really doesn’t get it on civil liberties. As long as crime’s going down, he’s happy.

With a 1 in 8 chance of Scots being searched by Police, perhaps it’s time to start educating our citizens and schoolchildren about their rights. Ultimately, if the Police are going to search you, they need to have reasonable suspicion of a number of things. Otherwise,you do not need to submit. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau has a handy guide to your rights. Read and learn it now.

While there are still concerns about stop and search powers in England being disproportionately used on black and Asian people, which must be addressed, the total number is falling. Just think, in a country of 50 million people, there are just 1.1 million stop and searches, while in Scotland, with a population of 6 million, there were 750,000. The downward trend, coupled with falling crime, shows what can be achieved with Liberal Democrats in government. To be blunt, even Theresa May is more liberal on this than Alex Salmond. That’s not a good look.

As well as Willie’s question, Alison McInnes, our Scottish justice spokesperson said that overuse of these powers on children sends out the wrong message about what sort of society we are:

Overuse of stop and search, particularly towards very young people, sends the completely wrong message about the kind of society we want to live in. Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to building a fairer society.

I’ve always said that I want to live in a liberal Scotland. So much about the SNP, not to mention authoritarian Labour, tells me it would be anything but if we were independent.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I am sure that the people who are using under-10s as drug couriers and as a means of smuggling incendiary flares into football matches have already made sure they know their rights.

  • Caron, is this another case of invasive policing becoming spread all over Scotland as a result of forming only one constabulary for the whole nation? I am no expert on the optimal size of a constabulary, but I imagine that an ideal system would combine strong and popular policing, together with a national force to deal with serious and complex crime. Anyhow the statistics look shocking!

  • … should have read ” strong and popular LOCAL policing” … apologies!

  • Laurence ScottMacka 24th Jan '14 - 10:25am

    The Pollice in Scotland are doing a great Job, if the person stopped has nothing to hide they will have nothing to worry about. Also Scotland is much smaller than England and everyone in a local knows the score so the police know who to stop. It is no surprise that crime is now really low. Also this is an attempt to disarm the west coast gangs so that their fights are less violent and they just give each other a kicking rather than stabbing each other to death. I would say this is sensible.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Jan '14 - 11:47am

    John, it may be, but the trends are higher anyway. I don’t think we can blame it all on the highly iniquitous police merger.

    Laurence, the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” rhetoric is anathema to any liberal. Citizens should not be harassed by the authorities as they go about their lawful daily business. The state is there to serve its citizens, not to bully them into submission. If the authorities wish to invade your private space and conduct a search, then they need to prove the need to do so and be accountable.

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