Abuse of the Terrorism Act 2000: five-figure settlement of civil claim against Metropolitan Police

On 17 April 2023 Ernest Moret, rights manager for French publishing house La Fabrique éditions, arrived in London by Eurostar to attend the London Bookfair at Olympia where he had over 30 appointments arranged with authors and publishers.

On arrival at St Pancras Station, Mr Moret was stopped and examined by counter-terrorist police officers purportedly acting under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, an exceptional counter-terrorism power which enables police at ports to examine individuals entering or leaving the UK, in order to determine whether they are terrorists, and without any grounds for suspicion. Officers can detain up to a maximum of 6 hours, search, seize devices, require cooperation (including passwords to devices) and take biometrics.

A person who is examined must give any information in his possession which the examining officer requests. It is an offence, punishable by up to 3 months’ imprisonment or a fine, to fail to comply with this duty. However, a person may only be convicted where the exercise of the Schedule 7 power was lawful.

Officers asked Mr Moret about demonstrations he had attended in France, and what he had been told by his solicitor. Having seized his iPhone and MacBook, officers told him that they intended to look at his photographs and media and required him to provide his PINs to both devices. Mr Moret refused. He was arrested on suspicion of wilfully obstructing a Schedule 7 examination. In interview, an officer asserted without any basis that Mr Moret if convicted for his refusal to disclose his PINs would never again be able to travel abroad.

After a total of around 24 hours of detention Mr Moret was released. His solicitor Richard Parry made representations direct to the CPS, who ordered the police to stop investigating Mr Moret, and declined to prosecute. 

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, subsequently concluded that ‘this examination should not have happened, and that additional safeguards are needed to ensure it is not repeated’. ‘This was an investigation into public order for which counter-terrorism powers were never intended to be used. The rights of free expression and protest are too important in a democracy to allow individuals to be investigated for potential terrorism merely because they may have been involved in protests that have turned violent’. The Independent Reviewer found that police assertions in interview as to the consequences of criminal conviction had been ‘exaggerated and overbearing’.

Mr Moret intimated a claim against the Metropolitan Police for compensation for misfeasance in public office and for false imprisonment. He has agreed to settle the proposed claim for a substantial five-figure sum negotiated by Richard Parry of Saunders Solicitors and Nick Stanage, working with Caroline Kamal of the Paris Bar. 

Press includes: The Guardian here and here, The Times, Telegraph, BBC, LibérationLe Monde, Le Point, The Nation here and here, The CriticFree Speech Union.