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Sunday, 24 May 2009

UK police told: delete protesters' photographs

The Times reports that last Thursday the English Court of Appeal ordered the Metropolitan Police to delete photographs of peaceful protesters demonstrating against the arms trade.

(The case is Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2009] EWCA Civ 414.)

The Times reports the Court's order was stayed for a month to allow the police the chance to appeal to the House of Lords. (Though if that happens, by the time the appeal is heard, it will probably be before the new UK Supreme Court.) As far as I know, that would be the first ultimate-court-of-appeal judgment dealing with police taking and retaining photographs of people in public order situations. (Though in R v Ireland (1970) 126 CLR 321 Barwick CJ said police could photograph a suspect for identification purposes.)

This case relied heavily on the operation of the European Convention on Human Rights Articles 8, 10, 11 and 14 (roughly equivalent to Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) ss 13, 15, 16, and 8.

Australian privacy law is still at the embryonic stage, with a tort of privacy yet to gain widespread judicial acceptance. So far, following on from the suggestion in ABC v Lenah Game Meats (2001) 208 CLR 199 that people (but not corporations) might be protected by a tort of invasion to privacy, two Australian decisions have recognised such a tort: Grosse v Purvis [2003] QDC 151 and Jane Doe v ABC [2007] VCC 281. (Both are discussed in the Victorian Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper for its Surveillance in Public Places inquiry I mentioned a few weeks ago.)

To date, there haven't been any similar cases under Victoria's Charter. But, given the incremental developments on a tort of privacy, it might be we see further action along the lines of Woods taken under the provisions of the Victorian Charter.

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