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The Life of P

Photographing London Demonstrations

Some quick advice to answer some questions I’ve been asked about photographing tomorrow’s G20 demonstrations in London (with the usual caveat that none of this should be construed as legal advice). Generally speaking, if you’re in a public place you can photograph whatever happens to be going on. Privacy doesn’t really apply since in a public demonstration neither the demonstrators nor the police have any reasonable expectation of privacy. Equally merely photographing a demonstration is unlikely to amount to a breach of the peace.

However some amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Act in February this year could affect photographers’ relationship with the police. With some very poor, wide drafting, typical of the current government, the new rules catch anyone eliciting information regarding members of the armed services, intelligence services or police which is “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. This potentially covers photographing police officers and we are just expected to trust that the statute will not be abused. An easy non-lawyer article summarises the change.

The G20 demonstrations clearly are not linked to terrorism so calmly explaining that should diffuse any attempt to stop you under the Counter-Terrorism laws. The chief issue is often misinformed police officers who genuinely misunderstand what photographers are allowed to do. In that respect I highly recommend everyone print and keep a copy of this UK photographers rights leaflet in their camera case to help them explain if questioned.

Common sense should prevail, particularly since the police are understandably likely to be tense: if you see problems likely to occur, don’t argue, take a step back and move elsewhere. If the police try to search you, complying is usually best, although they should not have any right to seize your equipment to my knowledge. Make it clear you are there as an observer rather than being confused as part of the demonstration to avoid breach of the peace accusations. Good luck!

4 Comments

  1. The Government doesn’t draft legislation their lawyers do and they remain in place whoever the current Government happens to be. There is therefore no relationship between poor drafting and the current Government.

    Also the drafting is not poor. The Government wanted wide powers, the drafters gave it them – Poor policy maybe but good drafting. As a lawyer you shouldn’t confuse them.

  2. That’s not entirely true. There is certainly a relationship between Government policy and the drafting that results. This is particularly true with the sheer volume of legislation passed under the current Government and several instances of rapid, knee-jerk legislating which is never wise.

    It is true that they sought wide powers. However when the Government response seems to be that that wasn’t its intention, and it wouldn’t be used in that way – that’s clearly poorly drafted. Unless one doesn’t believe them, of course.

  3. Some fair points. As a city lawyer and a Government lawyer I doubt drafting is a topic we would ever agree on! Always interesting to hear other perspectives though.

  4. That’s probably true! It was obviously a blanket comment which probably wasn’t entirely fair, as you pointed out — giving effect to policy with which I may disagree certainly isn’t the fault of the lawyers.

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