Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis
Reference:  EWHC 1105 (Admin)
Court: Administrative Court
Judge: McCombe J
Date of judgment: 22 May 2008
Summary: Privacy - Judicial review - Photographs - Public place - Police photographing individual associating with convicted criminal - Articles 8, 10, 11, 14, European Convention on Human Rights
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Instructing Solicitors: Liberty for W; Metropolitan Police Legal Services for the Defendant
W, a media co-ordinator employed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, purchased a share in Reed Elsevier PLC, the parent company of Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd, which organised trade fairs for various industries, including the arms industry. After attending Reed’s AGM in 2005, at which he asked one unobjectionable question, police said that they saw him in the street speaking to E, a former member of CAAT with convictions for unlawful activities targeted at organisations involved in the defence industry. A civilian photographer working with the police took several photographs of him. The police said that this was in order to identify him should it come to light that unlawful activity had taken place at the AGM. Officers approached W and asked him his identity. When he refused to give it, they followed W to an Underground station and asked staff if they knew his identity. They later identified W using the photographs.
W sought judicial review of the photographer and officers’ actions.
1) Whether the taking of the photographs of W constituted an interference with his rights under Article 8(1) of the ECHR;
2) Whether the retention and potential use of the photographs constituted such an interference;
3) If there was such an interference in either case, whether it was justified and, in particular, whether it was (a) in accordance with the law and (b) proportionate;
4) Whether there was interference with the Claimant’s rights under Articles 10 and/or 11 of the ECHR and, if so, whether it was justified; and
5) Whether there was a breach of Article 14 of the ECHR and, if so, whether that was justified.
Dismissing the claim:
1) The mere taking of W’s photograph in a public street did not engage his right to privacy under Art 8. More was required, such as the extensive publication of photographs of a person’s comings and goings, the publication of photographs exposing medical confidences or covert filming. Many intrusions by the police into the lives of citizens on the street would not be sufficiently serious to engage Convention rights.
2) The use of such lawfully obtained photographs by police for the purpose of investigations did not entail interference with Art 8. The images were not part of a dossier on W.
3) Any interference was not contrary to the common law or the Data Protection Act and was therefore lawful, and was entirely proportionate.
4) There was no interference with W’s rights under Arts 10 and 11 and the police actions were in any event justified under Arts 10(2) and 11(2).
5) No other right was engaged so Art 14 could not be engaged.
This decision emphasises the distinction between the ‘mere’ taking of photographs, and their subsequent disclosure publication. Where there is no, or only very limited disclosure, of a photograph taken in a public place it will be an unusual case in which Art 8 will be engaged. In the circumstances of this case it was strongly arguable that W could have had no reasonable expectation of privacy, given that he was attending the AGM of a public company as a media co-ordinator of a high-profile national pressure group.