Police powers to stop-and-search innocent photographers will be restricted as part of a reform of counter-terrorism laws, Home Secretary Theresa May has indicated.
The Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers also calls for better training of ‘over-zealous’ security guards.
Though May highlighted past concerns raised by photographers, she said that – where there is a ‘credible’ and ‘specific’ terrror threat – the law would continue to allow police stops without reasonable grounds for suspicion.
‘There is a legitimate need for the police to be able to stop people from taking photographs if it is suspected that the activity is part of terrorism reconnaissance or targeting activity,’ says the review.
‘But the public otherwise have a right to take photographs without fear of being stopped, questioned or searched by police.’
Announcing the results of the review, in the House of Commons, May said that Section 44 stop-and-search will be replaced by a more limited, ‘tightly-defined’ power of ‘much more limited scope and duration… to prevent a terrorist attack where there is a specific threat’.
This would require authorisation of a ‘senior police officer’.
Section 44 allowed officers to stop and search someone without reasonable grounds for suspicion.
A new law will need to be drawn up to replace Section 44, she said.
‘This targeted measure will also prevent misuse of this [anti-terror] power against photographers which I know was a significant concern with the previous regime,’ she claimed.
The review recommends that the power to stop and search individuals ‘without reasonable suspicion in exceptional circumstances is operationally justified’.
Referring to a law needed to replace Section 44, the review states that ‘purposes for which the search may be conducted should be narrowed to looking at evidence that the individual is a terrorist or that the vehicle is being used for purposes of terrorism rather than for articles which may be used in connection with terrorism.
‘The test for authorisation should be where a senior police officer reasonably suspects that an act of terrorism will take place. An authorisation should only be made where the powers are considered “necessary”. (rather than the current requirement of merely “expedient”) to prevent such an act.’
A five-page section of the review devoted to ‘photography’ states that the Government considered representations made by photographic organisations, including ‘Amateur Photographer‘ and subsequent talks held with the counter-terrorism minister in March 2010.
The review noted ‘widespread concern, notably amongst photographers and journalists, that counter-terrorism powers are being used to stop people legitimately taking photographs’.
‘Whilst statistics are not available to show which of the offences/powers listed… have created most concern, anecdotal evidence and submissions to this review suggest that Section 44 stop-and-searches of people taking photographs are the key issue.’
The review also calls for an improvement in the Home Office guidance given to police officers.
It states: ‘There is scope for the guidance to be improved still further to reflect the proposed changes on Section 44 and to reduce the risk of further misuse yet further.
‘The review also received submissions relating to “over-zealous” security guards taking action against photographers.
‘While not directly related to counter-terrorism powers, the review considered that the guidance and training for the security guards could also be strengthened to reflect better photographers’ rights.’
However, Section 58A of the Terrorism Act, which can be used to stop photographers taking pictures of police and intelligence officers, will remain law, the review recommends.
Amateur Photographer first reported a photographer being stopped under anti-terror powers in November 2005.
Roy Jhuboo was suspected of planning a rocket attack on Canary Wharf in London when, in fact, he was taking some pictures along the River Thames for a photography project he was working on.
Last year, the Government cut police powers to use the controversial Section 44 law following a long-running campaign by photographers and human rights organisations.
In July 2010, Home Secretary Theresa May ruled that police officers would only be allowed to use Section 44 in relation to searches of vehicles.
And, in August, she said the use of counter-terrorism legislation in relation to photography would be reviewed as a ‘priority’ as part of an overhaul of anti-terror laws.
A year ago thousands of amateur and professional photographers packed Trafalgar Square in protest about heavy-handed treatment by police officers under anti-terrorism laws.
Ahead of the review’s publication, it seemed chief constables were seeking fresh powers in the wake of the Section 44 change, which followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
Press reports over Christmas suggested that top police officers demanded that the Government bring in new legislation, allowing officers to stop and search people without grounds for suspecting they are involved in terrorist activity.
But the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) played down the reports.
Earlier this month its spokesman told Amateur Photographer: ?The Government?s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, has already suggested that consideration be given to a more limited provision which would allow police to carry out searches in specific circumstances where there is evidence of heightened threat or risk, such as in counter-terrorism operations, or around iconic events or critical sites.?
The ACPO spokesman added: ?The threat remains real and serious and stop and search has helped deter and disrupt terrorist activity and create a hostile environment for terrorists. Protecting the public remains our priority.?
ACPO represents Chief Constables in the 44 police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Last summer the Met promised to launch an investigation after its officers prevented a photographer taking pictures of police cadets in Romford, Essex.