About Turn on Stop and Search

I learn from the British Journal of Photography that Home Secretary Theresa May has brought back the police powers of stop and search, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) threw out in their ruling last June – and with a vengeance.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Photographers celebrate the end of Section 44 at New Scotland Yard, July 2010

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 became infamous because of its use by police to harass photographers and journalists going about their legitimate business in reporting protest.  The new section 47A, brought in under the “The Terrorism Act 2000 (Remedial) Order 2011,  replaces  the discredited sections 44-46 and not only allows the same abuses of power by police but removes the need for police to gain prior permission from the Home Office to employ them. Now any “senior police officer” – an assistant chief constable or above – can decide these powers are necessary and put them in place, with no requirement to gain any permission, only a requirement to inform the Home Office that this has been done “as soon as reasonably practicable.” In fact it will only be necessary to do so if the powers are to remain in action for more than 48 hours, and it seems it might be possible simply to repeat the order at 48 hour intervals to keep it in force without event letting the Home Office know.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Photographers protest against police harassment and Section 44, Jan 2010

Prior to the ECHR ruling, some photographers faced ridiculous obstacles in carrying out their work. One was stopped and searched three times in one morning covering a protest, another I think well over a hundred times in one year. So far as I am aware there has been not a single case in which any of the thousands of searches of photographers carrying UK Press cards has ever yielded any  evidence relating to the reason used to justify them.

The authorisation of stop and search in a particular area is only justified if the officer doing so “reasonably suspects that an act of terrorism will take place; and considers that the authorisation is necessary to prevent such an act.” But as before, the main use that will be made of them will be in circumstances where terrorism – as this term is normally understood – is not in any way at issue.

The Orwellian-named “Protection of Freedoms Bill” once it becomes law will replace this temporary legislation, probably with some equally draconian abuse of our rights, nodded through by our political machine, though possibly with a little coughing against it by the peers. The reason for this hasty emergency measure is obvious. March 26 promises to see one of the largest demonstrations ever in London, against the government’s cuts.

Photographers can expect a further round of harassment from police, which comes as a particular disappointment as following the demise of Section 44 and other events over the past year or so there has generally been some improvement. Since the obvious mishandling of the student demonstrations in November and December there does also seem to have been an attempt by police to improve both tactics and communication with protesters too. But this Order suggests that their political masters at least want them to play a tougher game.


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