Photographers can sue over Section 44 terror law abuse, says lawyer

July 1, 2010

Photographers are entitled to claim damages against police over misuse of anti-terrorism stop-and-search laws after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected the UK Government?s appeal over Section 44, a media lawyer has told Amateur Photographer.

Jonathan Coad, a lawyer at Swan Turton solicitors, urged photographers to seek ?appropriate? damages if they have been stopped since the ECHR first deemed Section 44 to be unlawful in January 2010.

?The action of the ordinary photographer would be against the police [as opposed to the UK Government],? said Coad.

He explained that the photographer would have relied on their legal right when taking pictures in the first place.

?If the police stopped them, that right would have been infringed, therefore that would be the course of action? against police,? Coad added.

He told us that photographers should keep any forms they were given by police in connection with a Section 44 Terrorism Act stop-and-search.

Though he would expect any damages photographers receive to be ?relatively modest?, Coad said that a ‘test case’ launched by a photographer could open up a ?clear run? for others to follow suit.

Earlier today a Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Government has already committed to reviewing counter-terrorism legislation which will include the operation of the Section 44 stop-and-search provisions.

‘We are currently giving full consideration to the judgement and its implications.’

The news comes as the campaign group, I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist!, calls on amateur and professional photographers to gather for a ‘flashmob’ to mark the ECHR’s rejection of the Home Office’s appeal over Section 44, and for the Government to ‘repeal’ the law.

The event is due to take place outside New Scotland Yard, London at noon on Sunday 4 July.

Organiser Jess Hurd, who has fallen victim to anti-terrorism legislation herself – once after photographing a wedding – said: ‘For street photographers, the battle against the misuse of the terrorism laws has been frustrating and, at times, absurd.

‘The abuse of these laws has united amateur and professional in defence of press freedom and civil liberties. We will not be intimidated by these unjust laws that pick on innocent citizens and criminalise photography.

‘We urge all those who have been stopped since the original ruling in January to seek legal representation through their respective organisations.’

Amateur Photographer magazine first reported anti-terror stops five years ago.

In 2005, Roy Jhuboo accused anti-terrorism police of acting overzealously after they stopped and searched him while he was out taking pictures in east London.

Police told him he could have been on a reconnaissance mission to launch a rocket attack on nearby Canary Wharf. In fact, he had been taking pictures along the River Thames for a photography project.

Architectural photographer Grant Smith, who has fallen foul of the law several times – once when photographing a church – said: ‘The rejection by the ECHR of the Government’s appeal marks a turning point in the ability of photographers to work without fear of harassment by police and petty-minded security guards.

‘The Home Office has promised a review of anti-terror legislation. However, until the findings of the review are implemented, it appears that police will continue to use Section 44.

‘It’s a great first step, but we must still be mindful that the police may continue to misuse these powers.’

Police stop photographerPolice stop an Amateur Photographer magazine staff member on Westminster Bridge – one of countless similar incidents that have angered professionals and amateurs in recent years

Picture credit: Ben Brain


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