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NUJ member wins media freedom victory

14 January 2010

An NUJ member has scored a victory for media freedom after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) upheld her complaint against the use of terror laws to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion. Pennie Quinton was one of two people stopped near an arms fair in London in 2003 and she was prevented from filming the event.

The ECtHR ruled that powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled the pair's right to respect for a private and family life had been violated. It awarded them €33,850 (£30,400) in costs.

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the home secretary to authorise police to make random searches in certain circumstances. However, the ECtHR said the people's rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated.

The Act removed the previous requirements that the police had to have grounds for suspicion in order to conduct a search. The ECtHR today said that stop and search powers were "not sufficiently circumscribed" and there were not "adequate legal safeguards against abuse". It is expected the UK government will be forced to change the law and scrap Section 44.

Pennie Quinton was represented by Liberty at the hearing.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"Congratulations to Pennie and Liberty. Today's judgement strikes a major blow for media freedom – showing that the random stop and search used against journalists is illegal. In far too many cases recently, these powers have been used to stop journalists and in particular photographers from carrying out their work. The court has agreed with us that such powers are being abused."

Corinna Ferguson, a legal officer for Liberty, welcomed the judgement, saying:

"Liberty has consistently warned the government about the dangers of stop and search without suspicion and actively campaigned for the tightening up of the infamous section 44 power.
"The public, police and Court of Human Rights all share our concerns for privacy, protest, race equality and community solidarity that come with this sloppy law. In the coming weeks, Parliamentarians must finally sort this mess."

Tags: , Pennie Quinton, european court of human rights, liberty, section 44, stop and search, terrorism act, press freedom, courts, echr, government uk