Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gave police officers certain additional powers of ‘stop and search’, which have since lead to complaints of mistreatment by both press and citizen journalists.
What powers does section 44 give to police officers?
Firstly, for the powers to come into effect, the area in question must first have been designated by a police force as being at potential risk of terrorist attack. Areas designated in this way under the 2000 Act can be very large – one good example is that section 44 applies to the whole of the London metropolitan police district. If this is the case then a police officer has the authority to stop and search any person, even if there is no reasonable suspicion that the person is a potential terrorist. Section 44 also states that it is an offence to intentionally obstruct a police officer who is carrying out such a search.
Furthermore, the search may be ‘for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism’ and the police officer is empowered to confiscate any articles is he/she reasonably suspects that there is an intention to use it for to aid or carry out acts of terrorism. The rights of citizens are that the police officer may not require them to remove any clothing in public except for any headgear they may be wearing, footwear, outerwear such as jackets and coats, or gloves.
In 2006, the House of Lords rejected the argument that section 44’s provision for ‘random stopping and searching’ by police officers is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
When have police officers used section 44 in relation to photographers?
In 2008, the use of section 44 to question a man in Portsmouth led to criticism of the police abusing their new powers. The man had taken a photo with his mobile phone of a police car parked at a bus stop, which he thought to be illegal parking. The police officers to whom the car belonged had been dealing with a nearby incident but when they observed this man taking photos, they questioned him claiming they had the right to do so under the Terrorism Act 2000. A police spokesman later stated that the two officers had acted reasonably as suspicion was aroused by the man taking photos of their car.
For more information on:
- What advice has been issued to the police regarding section 44 and photographers?
- What does the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 mean for photographers?