Stopping detention without cause

LONDON FREELANCE Branch member Pennie Quinton went to the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday 12 May in an attempt to overturn Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which gives police the right to stop and search anyone in a "designated area" without needing to have even "reasonable suspicion". The whole of London has been "designated" continuously since the Act came into force, apart from one fortnight when the police forgot to fill in the form.

Photo © Mike Holderness
Pennie Quinton leaving the European Court of Human Rights...

Pennie was detained and searched while filming a protest against the DSEi arms fair in Docklands on 9 September 2003. As a result of being detained she was unable to film a key part of the protest.

With the support of civil liberties organisation Liberty, Pennie took the case up to the House of Lords - which ruled that to justify detention police merely had to show that they were searching for "articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism" - and back down to Central London County Court, where the judge ruled that the police could not be questioned about anything else and the jury then ruled against Pennie and fellow-applicant Kevin Gillan.

Interestingly, on Wednesday 6 May the Metropolitan Police announced that they would no longer use Section 44 in the London boroughs of Southwark, Brent, Newham and Tower Hamlets. The government had previously argued that it was essential not to publicise where Section 44 was and was not in force. Pennie's barrister Ben Emmerson reminded the Court that it is essential that citizens - including journalists - know where such powers of search apply. The Section 44 powers are not, as the government argued repeating its submission to the House of Lords, equivalent to the certainty of being searched on entering an airport or a public building - because there you know that this is a condition of entry and you have the choice of staying away.

The supposed safeguards on the use of the power were meaningless, he said: police merely had to declare, for example, that it was "expedient" to designate an area; and "articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism" would include the A to Z and of course cameras.

The European Court of Human Rights administers the European Convention on Human Rights, signed by the 47 member states of the Council of Europe (which is to say that it's not a European Union body). It reserved judgement - no decision is expected before the autumn.

Photo © Mike Holderness
...after, naturally, photographing it.

Last modified: 3 July 2009 - © 2009 contributors
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