In January the European court declared the use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to be in direct contravention of a citizen’s right to respect for a private life.
The basis of the ruling was that because the power is so broad it fails to provide safeguards against the abuse of individuals.
On the back of that ruling several leading law firms, including Madden and Finucane and Kevin Winters solicitors, are preparing legal cases that will see that strand of the act tested for the first time in the north.
While the PSNI has given quarterly figures for the numbers of stop and searches carried out in individual district command units, it does not say how many times the power may have been used against any one individual.
Former republican prisoner Carl Reilly, is to be one of the first people to challenge the use of the legislation in the High Court.
The west Belfast taxi driver claims he has been stopped and searched almost 200 times in the past year.
On some occasions he says police have stopped and searched him several times in one day.
“We hear constantly about the lack of police resources when it comes to dealing with crime and yet every time they stop me, which is more or less every day, they can free up car loads of officers,” Mr Reilly said.
“I’ve been moved on from two places of employment as a result of police harassment.
“No-one will come to my home because visitors are stop and searched, that includes everyone from Chinese delivery drivers to the parents of my children’s friends.
“My children have been taken out of my car and made to stand by the side of the road in a snow blizzard for 20 minutes, clearly distressed, because the PSNI said they couldn’t search the car with them sitting in the back,” he said.
“Despite the sheer volume of times I have been stopped I have never been charged with a single offence as a result.
“I fail to see how this is effective policing.
Mr Reilly described the stop and search powers as “political policing at its worst”.
“We were told by Sinn Fein that participation on the policing boards would hold the PSNI to account and prevent a repeat of the past abuses,” Mr Reilly said.
“But there is no evidence of that in places like Derry, Lurgan and north and west Belfast where this draconian legislation is being used to excess on a daily basis.”
Republican pressure group eirigi said several of its members were pursuing legal action against the use of section 44 powers.
Spokesman Breandan MacCionnaith said the legislation should be suspended pending the outcome of any legal challenges.
ARRESTS RARELY FOLLOW
The controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows the police to stop and search a person at any time.
Before the introduction of the legislation police could only stop and search individuals if they had ‘reasonable grounds’ for suspicion and certain criteria were met.
The Ministry of Justice’s own figures showed that fewer than 0.1 per cent of those stopped were actually arrested for terrorism offences.
In England and Wales you are four times more likely to be stopped if you are black or Asian than if you are white.
In Northern Ireland you are statistically more likely to be stopped if you are from the nationalist community.
Out of 20,000 stop and searches carried out last year across the north no-one was convicted of paramilitary related offences.
Between July 1 and 30 September last year the PSNI carried out 10,265 stop and searches alone – a dramatic increase on the same period in 2008 when they carried out 1,657 recorded incidents.