Thursday, 4 November 2010

Home Office reaffirms street photography rights

British Journal of Photography reports:-

In a letter sent to Francis Maude MP, in response to issues raised by photographer Mark Singleton, Theresa May says that as the Home Office continues to review police's anti-terrorism powers in relation to photography, it expects that the introduction of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will help reduce the number of cases of police's misuse of such powers.

She writes: "The bill will include proposals to introduce Police and Crime Commissioners. This will be the key to ensuring that greater accountability is at the heart of policing in England and Wales [...] The public will be able to elect - for the first time - an individual who will provide a visible and accountable link to police priorities and activities." She adds that the reform will free the police from the bureaucracy and central guidance generated by Whitehall, the Association of Chief Police Officers and that of other organisations.

However, she says, the ACPO will continue to play an important role in the issuing of guidance, and she expects the "ACPO to show strong leadership in promoting and supporting the greater use of professional judgement by police officers and staff."

May also addressed Singleton's concerns regarding the requirement, by certain police forces across the UK, for photographers to carry identification, as it is the case in the City of London. But, as the Home Secretary refuses to be drawn into the legality of such a move - arguing that the requirement is "an operational matter" and, as such, is "the responsibility of the Chief Officer of the force concerned," - she argues that the Government "has no plans to introduce any requirement for photographers to carry identification. Let me assure you that people have the right to take photographs in public places for legitimate reasons and the Government will do everything it can to uphold that right."

May's letter was published by SceneThat, an organisation that campaigns for photographers' rights. A copy of the letter can be seen here [PDF link].

Last week, media law specialist Rupert Grey, who is a partner at the legal firm Swan Turton, addressed the current legal situation, less than six months after Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was declared illegal and scrapped by the current government. While photographers can no longer be stopped under Section 44, they still have deal with three other issues, Grey argued - Section 43 of The Terrorism Act, charges of harassment and charges of making or retaining indecent images of children.

Speaking at The Social, an event organised by the British Journal of Photography with The Photographers' Gallery, Grey explained that under Section 43, a police officer may stop and search a photographer, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that he/she is a terrorist or has in their possession anything that suggests they might be.

But, he added, police officers have no right to demand to see photographers’ images, or to delete images without getting a court order. If the photographer is a professional photojournalist, they are entitled to protect their sources – and that includes photographs – by refusing to show the shot, a point Grey regarded as “very important”.

However, Grey urged photographers to take a constructive approach both to shooting in the street and dealing with members of the public and the police force. “If a police officer stops you, bear in mind that they have to consider the worst possible scenario,” he said. “If they make the wrong decision, they face the possibility there could be a terrorist attack that was their fault. Ask them why they have stopped you – at least then you know where they’re coming from.”

He added that in his conversations with the Met and ACPO he detected a willingness to co-operate with photographers, and a recognition of their role as the ears and eyes of the public. New guidelines – following the suspension of section 44 – will be published by the Home Officer and the ACPO shortly, and Grey recommended that photographers should read them and have a copy in their photographic bag at all times

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