Government reminds police about terror powers

October 28, 2008

Next month police forces will be advised to draw up ?aides memoire? to remind officers that their Stop and Search powers are only to be used in ?exceptional? circumstances, Amateur Photographer (AP) can reveal.

The move follows a government pledge to ensure police officers apply Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 ?appropriately and proportionately?.

The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) will issue the revised guidance to all UK police forces in November after months of consultation and feedback from police and civil liberties groups.

However, the decision to produce ?aides memoire? for officers will rest with individual police forces, said the NPIA in a statement.

First reported by AP in April, the move came amid growing complaints from photographers that anti-terror powers were being abused.

And it followed a nationwide campaign to defend the rights of photographers, amateur and professional, taking pictures in public places.

It also came in the wake of an anti-terrorism campaign, launched by police early this year but much criticised for targeting photographers (pictured).

A draft of the revised guidance, issued for consultation purposes, includes a section on Photography which spells out police Stop and Search powers. It reads: ?There is no power under the Terrorism Act to prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place.

?If officers reasonably suspect that photographs are being taken as part of hostile terrorist reconnaissance then they should act appropriately, by searching the person under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act or making an arrest. Cameras, film and memory cards may be seized as evidence but there is no power for images to be deleted or film destroyed by officers.?

However, an NPIA spokesman was unable to confirm whether this section will form part of the final guidance document, expected to be published at the end of November.

The NPIA statement, sent to AP today, reads: ?As a result of feedback from police officers and civil society groups, the [revised] Practice Advice will contain a suggested form of words for an aide memoire that will summarise the key powers and principles behind the Terrorism Act 2000 ? recognising that these powers are exceptional. The revised Practice Advice will also contain a suggested form of words for public leaflets that will help police officers explain these exceptional powers to the public more clearly.?

The revamped guidance will incorporate comments made by Lord Carlisle, independent monitor of anti-terrorism legislation.

The NPIA statement adds: ?It is intended that the revised Practice Advice will help the police service maintain and enhance good community relations and increase public confidence when undertaking counter-terrorism operations.?

Earlier this year the Metropolitan Police Federation complained that officers were ?not properly trained? – leading to ?misunderstandings? when dealing with the public.

The NPIA drew up its guidance on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers following a commitment by the Prime Minister in October last year.

NPIA issued its statement to AP in direct response to our enquiry about how the guidance would impact on photographers taking pictures in public places.

On 14 October Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve quizzed Home Secretary Jacqui Smith over the guidance in the House of Commons.

In response, Smith replied that the revised guidance would be issued to ?all police forces? next month. She added: ?This will cover the taking of photographs in public places, although the general position is that there in no legal restriction on photography in such places.?

The Home Office declined to comment on the revised guidance.


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