Photographers win an end to 'stop and search'

The government has confirmed what photographers have long suspected: that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act represents such an “unacceptable intrusion” to human rights that it must be scrapped.

The section, under which numerous photographers have been wrongly stopped, searched and arrested, should therefore be repealed, says the government’s review of counter-terrorism and security powers.

However, reflecting on the review to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said the absence of such powers “might create a gap in the ability of the police to protect the public.”

As a result, although Section 44 will be repealed it will also be replaced – with a more “tightly-defined” power, which senior police offers can use upon satisfying a new ‘necessity’ test.

Replacing the less stringent threshold of “expedient,” the test would be satisfied where a senior officer has reason to suspect a specific terror attack will take place if the individual is not stopped and searched.

“This targeted measure will also prevent the misuse of these powers against photographers,” the home secretary said, “which I know was a significant concern with the previous regime.”

Condemning the government’s response for being “too little, too late”, the Bureau of Freelance Photographers disagreed that Section 44’s replacement would immunise photographers from the mistakes of the past.

“Photographers will remain easy targets,” the BFP said in its latest leader column.

“Despite its recommendation that advice to the police be further strengthened, the review does nothing to address the atmosphere of distrust that has been allowed to build up between photographers and the police.”

On behalf of its freelance members, the bureau also criticised the review’s decision to retain Section 58A of the Terrorism Act, under which it is a potential offence to photograph a police officer.

“Guidance has been issued to the police time and time again,” BFP said. “Yet it rarely seems to filter down the ranks to the extent of noticeably curtailing the frequent ‘over-zealous’ policing of photographers.”

It added that the review should have more robustly emphasized “the rights and liberties of the photographer,” although it conceded that the coalition government deserved credit for removing the law “in order to restore the balance of civil liberties” in the UK.


17th March 2011

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