Public Order at the G8

What can journalists attempting to cover protests around the G8 meeting on 6-8 July expect? Louis Charalambous, a solicitor specialising in Public Order law, gave some notes to the June London Freelance meeting. Louis noted that he's an English-qualified solicitor and we're going to need Scottish-qualified solicitors to deal with any incidents there. For example PACE, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 - does not apply to Scotland. So those rights that it gives journalists to protect their materials do not apply in Scotland.

Lawyers for a major media organisation in Scotland confirmed to Louis that:

  • If the police seek to seize material you do have to try to assert your journalistic rights, and try to persuade officers that they should get a court order if they want you to hand over your materials; and
  • the reality is, however, that if they think you've got something that's crucial to evidence-gathering they will try to seize it - and can.

Some of the advice contained in the NUJ's Legal Rights Guide do apply. (Members contact the Freelance Office for a copy.)

For example, photojournalists ought to be distinguishable - maybe by having their Press Card hanging round their necks (on something non-injury-causing like wool).

Louis recommends introducing yourself to police before and during the event. Recognise them, and they're more likely to recognise you and the job you have to do. It is important to distinguish yourself from the protesters.

Louis suspect that police will try to keep the press in pens at the Edinburgh demonstration. There may be attempts to keep away people who don't have accreditation - particularly at Gleneagles on the Wednesday.

When challenged, Louis says you should assert your rights - including mentioning Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression (and hence of the media).

If you have a camera and see others being harassed, record it.

One of the more likely charges is the Scottish Common Law offence of Breach of the Peace - defined by Lord Justice Clerk in 1889 as conduct by one or more persons that "will reasonably produce alarm in the minds of the lieges". This definition was adopted by the High Court of Justiciary on 4 May 2004: peace campaigners had argued that no-one had actually been alarmed by their actions and that the charge was too vague to be consistent with the European Convention - and this Appeals court rejected these arguments.

The offence of "Aggravated Trespass" introduced in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 does apply in Scotland. It makes it an offence to "trespass on land in the open air, and do there anything which is intended to: intimidate so as to deter, obstruct, or disrupt persons engaged or about to engage in lawful activity on that or adjacent land in the open air." It does not apply to highways open to motor traffic or in buildings. It is more likely to be used against those identified as protesters - and on private land.

Sion Touhig noted that photographers covering the protests in New York before the Presidential election had gone out equipped with stamped self-addressed envelopes, and dropped their full films and flashcards into postboxes. This is more practicable in Edinburgh than halfway between Aucterarder and Aberuthven. The digitally-equipped could try emailing off copies of their pictures as backup - but getting a mobile dialtone may well be difficult.

A member asked, what's the point of debating with police who, for example, want to seize a camera? If there are ten journalists being solid, and one police officer then there is some chance of carrying the debate. And you should note that many of the police present will be drafted from England.

The NUJ's long-standing policy is that journalists should never voluntarily hand over material. One of the reasons for this is that when it does happen - and certain newspapers are fond of handing "dossiers" to the police - it reinforces protesters' hostility to journalists. The union provides a service for members who suspect that a court order may be made against them in the future - read this and act on it if need be.

Last modified: 27 June 2005 - © 2005 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editor of the time
Send comments to the editor: