Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (CA)
Reference:  EWCA Civ 414;  HRLR 25;  EMLR 1; Times, June 1, 2009
Court: Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judge: Lord Collins of Mapesbury, Laws and Dyson LJJ
Date of judgment: 21 May 2009
Summary: Privacy - Judicial review - Photographs - Public place - Police photographing individual associating with convicted criminal - Articles 8, 10, 11, 14, European Convention on Human Rights
Instructing Solicitors: Liberty for the Applicant; The Metropolitan Police Service for the Respondent
W was a media co-ordinator for the Campaign against Arms Trade (CAAT). He was photographed by the police on the street outside an annual general meeting of a company whose subsidiary organised a trade fair for the arms industry. The photographs were taken to enable the police to identify (i) potential offenders in the event offences had been committed at the meeting; and (ii) potential offenders at the trade fair.
McCombe J held that had been no interference under Article 8(1) and, in the alternative, the interference was in accordance with Article 8(2). W appealed, contending that Article 8 was engaged and that the actions of the police fell outside Article 8(2).
(1) Whether Article 8 was engaged, and;
(2) If so, whether the interference was in accordance with Article 8.
Allowing the appeal;
(1) Article 8 was engaged. The mere taking a photograph in a public place was incapable of engaging Article 8, but the issue was whether the taking of pictures, along with their actual and/or apprehended use might amount to a violation of Article 8. On the facts the photographs were taken without W knowing why and to what use they may be put. This was a sufficient intrusion into W’s space to amount to an interference with Article 8.
(2) The interference with W’s Article 8(1) rights were not justified pursuant to Article 8(2). The taking and retention of the photographs were in pursuit of a legitimate aim, namely the prevention of disorder or crime. However, the police’s justification for retaining the photographs for more than a few days after the meeting did not bear scrutiny; once it had become clear that W had not committed any offence at the AGM there was no reasonable basis for fearing that he might commit an offence.
Laws LJ observed (Dyson LJ and Lord Collins agreeing): “This cluster of values, summarised as the personal autonomy of every individual and taking concrete form as a presumption against interference with the individual’s liberty, is a defining characteristic of a free society. We therefore need to preserve it even in little cases. At the same time it is important that this core right protected by Article 8, however protean, should not be read so widely that its claims become unreal and unreasonable.”