Police forces will be free to ignore new government guidelines aimed at reforming police stop and search, a minister has admitted.
Criminal justice minister Damian Green told MPs that local police authorities could decide not to follow the new rules, which require “reasonable grounds for suspicion” before a search is carried out.
“It is for chief constables and police and crime commissioners to make decisions about whether and when to adopt the scheme,” he explained in a written answer to a question by an MP.
The Home Secretary Theresa May has made it her mission to reform the police power, introducing what in April she called a “comprehensive package” of changes.
“Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police,” she told MPs at the time.
Stop on search powers give police officers the ability to search a person’s belongings without a warrant when they are out in a public place.
The Home Secretary cited evidence showing that 27% of stop and searches are currently carried out without reasonable grounds for suspicion, and that a disproportionate number are carried out on young black men.
The Home Office confirmed to BuzzFeed that the new rules were entirely voluntary, but emphasised Theresa May’s earlier pledge to introduce primary legislation governing stop and search if the voluntary approach was not successful.
The cabinet is however reportedly split on stop and search reform, with David Cameron opposed – making it less likely that the government would bring forward legislation on the issue.