The Government has promised to ensure it strikes the 'right balance' between protecting the public and upholding civil liberties, as part of the Freedom Reform Bill. But will this mean a review of controversial Section 44 stop-and-search powers? Yes, says the Home Office...

The Government has promised to ensure it strikes the ‘right balance’ between protecting the public and upholding civil liberties, as part of the Freedom Reform Bill. The review will include police use of Section 44 stop-and-search, the Government has told Amateur Photographer (AP).

Outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech, the Freedom – or Great Repeal – Bill states that it will ensure ‘anti-terrorism legislation strikes the right balance between protecting the public, strengthening social cohesion and protecting civil liberties’.

Asked whether this will cover a review of controversial anti-terrorism Section 44 stop-and-search powers, a Home Office spokesman told AP today: ‘We will include terrorism stop and search powers in our review of terrorism and security powers.’

Many amateur and professional photographers have complained about the use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act which gives police officers the right, in designated areas, to stop and search an individual ? and confiscate an article ? whether or not there are grounds to suspect a connection with terrorism.

AP understands that the Government will look into the possibility of moderating Section 44 – the way it can be used.

It will base part of its assessment on the use of Section 44, on the result of the former government’s appeal against a European ruling that deemed its use illegal.

Photographers welcomed news of the Section 44 review. John Tracy of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers said: ‘It is certainly good news that the new Government, with its allegedly greater emphasis on civil liberties, is to review the laws.

‘The fact is, other than the most exceptional circumstances, photographers should not be stopped from taking photographs.’

He added: ‘We note the Government has promised to strike the “right balance” between protecting the public and upholding civil liberties. It has always been something of a mystery how, by stopping photographers going about their legitimate work, you protect the public.’

Architectural photographer Grant Smith, who has fallen victim to the terror law on several occasions, told us: ‘A substantial review of the misuse of Section 44 is something every photographer – amateur and professional – should appreciate.’

However, he cautioned that an overhaul is dependent on the outcome of the European Court of Human Rights appeal ruling.

‘Given that it may take some time to introduce amended legislation, I would like to see police on the ground adopt a more discretionary attitude towards photographers, and not assume they are suspicious or involved in any action with malicious intent.’

AP understands that the final content of the review will depend on a number of issues, including the time required to draft legislation and the timing of any associated reviews.

In a meeting with Amateur Photographer magazine in March, the Government tried to reassure photographers that they are not being ‘targeted’ by police officers under anti-terrorism stop and search powers.

The controversy came to a head on 23 January when around 2,000 photographers, plus the dog pictured below, staged a protest in Trafalgar Square.

But the Home Office said police would continue to stop and search photographers using their anti-terrorism powers.

Dog not a terrorist

Picture credits: Chris Cheesman

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