THE United Nations Human Rights Committee has criticised the use of non-statutory – or consensual – stop and search powers by Police Scotland and said they should be repealed.

In a report published yesterday, the committee was also critical of the lack of data on the ethnicity of those subject to such searches.

Scottish Greens and the Liberal Democrats, along with campaign group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, welcomed the report’s findings.

The committee said the consensual searches “undertaken on a large scale by Police Scotland” appeared to involve “selective application ... in a manner which is allegedly unlawful and disproportionate”.

It added: “The Committee observes that no data on the community background of persons stopped and searched under this Act appear to have been gathered so as to ensure that such powers are not used disproportionately and arbitrarily against individuals of a particular ethnicity.”

It recommended that the “state party” should: “Repeal non-statutory stop and search powers in Scotland and pursue its efforts aimed at improving the process of selecting targets under statutory mandates ... engage in training of law enforcement officers, undertake comprehensive data-gathering about the application of stop and search power and improve the transparency of the process.”

It also urged the implementation, as a priority, of the format used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for recording the community background of people stopped under its Justice and Security Act; and to ensure “robust independent scrutiny” of any stop and search powers in the UK.

Richard Haley, chairman of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, told The National: “Our view is that so-called consensual stop and search is abusive and that the Scottish Parliament should act promptly to change the law so that it is explicitly prohibited. The idea of ‘consent’ is a fairy-tale to disguise the fact that police have assumed for themselves a blanket and legally uncontrolled power.

“It is hardly different to the stop and search power under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was repealed after the European Court of Human Rights ruled against it.”

Independent MSP John Finnie, a Justice Committee member and Scottish Green candidate for 2016, added: “Prior to the advent of the single police service, the common law and statutory powers of stop and search generally worked well across Scotland.

“The understandable public outcry about stop and search, reflected in the comments in this measured UN Human Rights Committee Report, was the result of Police Scotland’s decision to use this sensitive tactic on an unprecedented industrial scale.”

Finnie said the “disproportionate use” had largely ignored the well understood police powers and instead relied on the “highly dubious tactic” of so-called consensual searches. “Many of those subjected to these consensual searches were minors who were clearly unable to give the necessary informed consent,” he said.

“The Scottish Green Party welcomed the government’s stop and search review being undertaken by John Scott QC, the respected human rights lawyer. While in not wishing to pre-empt the outcome of that review, we believe that the only acceptable way forward is to ensure all stop and search would require to be on done a statutory footing.”

Alison McInnes, the Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswomon, said: “In a modern, democratic country it should not be the case that our institutions have been so begrudging towards reforming this illiberal and unregulated tactic.”

“I hope that the SNP will soon publicly back my moves to amend the Criminal Justice Bill so that we can guarantee more people the justice system they deserve.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “The new independent Advisory Group, chaired by John Scott QC, is considering the longer-term policy around the use of consensual stop and search and will make their recommendations by August 2015.”

“Stop and search can be a valuable tool in combating crime and has led to the seizures of dangerous weapons, drugs and stolen goods.

“However, clearly it is important to get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of the individual.