04 August 2009

Validity of Your Assay?

"Drug charity director sues after he is wrongly targeted by sniffer dogs". The story explains that someone was using public transport in London - specifically he was trying to get out of a tube station - when a police sniffer dog indicated to its user that the person was carrying drugs. This resulted in the person being searched by the police. Nothing illegal was found and the person was allowed to go on his way.

According to s1(3) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984,

"[t]his section does not give a constable power to search a person or vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle unless he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles"

So, was it reasonable to stop and search the person on the basis of the response from the sniffer dog?

"According to Release, sniffer dogs are an "unreliable and ineffective police method" and the charity is campaigning for more regulation of the practice.

Research carried out in Australia showed almost three quarters of people searched after dog alerts were found not to have drugs on them.

In other words, is it reasonable to be stopped on the basis of an assay that gives the wrong result more times than it gives the right result?

The newspaper article says,

"The claimants are asking the High Court to make a declaration that the operation was unlawful and that the use of the sniffer dog as a means of establishing reasonable grounds for a search in this case was unlawful."

The result (ratio) of this court case should give us an idea as to what the courts regard as being reasonably valid.

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