Lords reject freelancer’s protest

A freelance photo journalist has lost her claim that anti-terrorism laws were hijacked to stop and search her as she demonstrated at an international arms fair in the capital.

Ruling this week, the House of Lords reportedly rejected the case brought by Pennie Quinton and a student, Kevin Gillan, that they were unfairly searched under the Terrorism Act for their protest.

Represented by Liberty, the civil rights campaigner, the two heard from five Law Lords how the actions of police officers were “valid” and “not a disproportionate response,” The Daily Mail reported.

The unanimous decision effectively dismisses a challenge brought against the Metropolitan Police and former Home Secretary David Blunkett after the protesters were rounded up at the Excel Centre in the Docklands.

Scotland Yard is said to have initially denied using the legislation but later admitted its use during the £1million policing operation in September 2003.

Dozens of protesters were stopped for up to 45 minutes during the four-day event and at least two of the 144 people arrested were detained under the Terrorism Act.

Speaking on behalf of Ms Quinton and Mr Gillan, human rights lawyers argued that the action unlawfully deterred members of the public from demonstrating peacefully, and the "draconian" powers were being used in a way that was never intended.

But Lord Bingham of Cornhill said: "It is an old and cherished tradition of our country that everyone should be free to go about their business in the streets of the land, confident that they will not be stopped and searched by the police unless reasonably suspected of having committed a criminal offence.

“So jealously is this guarded that it has become a constitutional principle. But it is not an absolute rule.”

The cited exceptions to the rule were the anti-terrorist provisions brought in under the 2000 Act, Lord Bingham said.


9th March 2006

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