Trials & tribulations: the laws being trialed in the UK

At any given time, numerous laws are being trialed in certain areas of the UK, which may give an indication of future legislation. We take look at some interesting trials and—for those that have been completed—their outcomes.

  • Last updated Jan 29, 2019 12:30:36 PM
  • Emma Finamore

Trials play an important role in shaping our legislation. Our feature on how laws influence the public’s behaviour touches on recent developments in rules around how food is sold to the public, after a trial demonstrated how changes could have a dramatic impact on how much unhealthy food was purchased by consumers.

As part of this trial, six of the nine major supermarkets in England introduced new checkout food policies between 2013 and 2017 for the research, limiting the amount of unhealthy foods available to shoppers at tills. Researchers found that 17% fewer small packages of sugary confectionery, chocolate and crisps were bought and taken home from these supermarkets after they introduced the policies. 

A “dramatic reduction” in the number of purchases of unhealthy food eaten “on the go” was also revealed in the study, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care Policy Research Programme: shoppers made 76% fewer purchases of sugary confectionery, chocolate and crisps from supermarkets with the policies.

Now these results will inform law: sweets and fatty snacks sold at checkouts and as part of supermarket deals will be banned under new government proposals to halve childhood obesity in England by 2030.

The new government strategy says: “Where food is placed in shops and how it is promoted can influence the way we shop and it is more common for HFSS [high in fat, sugar and salt] products to be placed in the most prominent places in store as well as sold on promotion, eg. with ‘buy one get one free’ offers.” 

Here are some other examples of trials and their relationship with legislation.

Police & body-worn cameras 

The first UK police trials using body-worn cameras (or ‘Body- Worn Video’—BWV) took place way back in 2005 on a very small scale by Devon and Cornwall Police, and in 2006 the first deployments of cameras at a national level were undertaken by the Police Standards Unit as part of the Domestic Violence Enforcement Campaign. 

These head cameras recorded everything that happened during an incident from the time of arrival, which led to the “preservation of good-quality first disclosure evidence from the victim”. This evidence was deemed especially useful for supporting prosecutions if the victim was reluctant to give evidence or press charges. 

These studies led the Home Office to publish a report, saying that “evidence gathering using this equipment has the potential radically to enhance the police performance at the scene of a wide range of incidents”. The same report concluded that the BWV system had “the ability to significantly improve the quality of the evidence provided by police officers at incidents”. 

In July 2007, the Home Office issued a document entitled Guidance for the Police Use of Body-Worn Cameras, based on the first national pilot of BWV conducted in Plymouth. Tony McNulty MP, minister of state for Security, Counter-Terrorism and Police wrote: “The use of body-worn video has the potential to improve significantly the quality of evidence provided by police officers… video recording from the scene of an incident will capture compelling evidence…that could never be captured in written statements.”

By 2008, Hampshire Police began to use the technology in parts of the Isle of Wight and the mainland, and pioneers of the technology began to drive the need to review the legislation surrounding its use. In 2009 the Security Industry Authority concluded that a CCTV licence could be extended to cover the use of a body camera. In 2010, over 40 UK police areas were using body cameras to varying degrees. Grampian Police were one such force that initiated a trial in July 2010, which paved the way for the Paisley and Aberdeen BWV project in 2011. It was considered a huge success and it was concluded that the benefits saved an estimated minimum of £400,000 per year due to: 

- Increased public reassurance;

- Reduced fear of crime in local communities;

- Increased early guilty pleas;

- Complaints about the police or wardens being resolved more quickly;

- Reduced assaults on officers. 

In 2013, the Home Office released an updated code of practice for surveillance cameras, in which Principle 8 included the use of body cameras, stating: “Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose, and work to meet and maintain those standards”.

2013 also saw the start of Operation Hyperion, a Hampshire Police initiative on the Isle of Wight that equipped every frontline police officer with a personal issue body-worn camera. Sergeant Steve Goodier oversaw the project and said it should drive legislative changes to free up further uses for body-worn cameras. 

He said: “I strongly believe we could make some small changes to legislation that can have a big impact on officers: PACE [The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984] was written in 1984 at a time when BWV was not around…We want to get the legislation changed so that BWV could replace the need for handwritten statements from officers when it is likely that an early guilty plea would be entered at court or that the incident could be dealt with a caution or community resolution.”

According to the Security Industry Authority (part of the Home Office): “Headcams/bodycams are likely to fall within the definition of public space surveillance (CCTV) activity. If you are employed to use CCTV equipment to monitor the activities of a member of the public in a public or private space, other than for the purposes of protecting property or identifying a trespasser (eg. if you use CCTV to guard against outbreaks of disorder), and this activity is carried out in connection with any contract for the supply of services, then you will require a Public Space Surveillance (CCTV) licence.”

Existing legislation relating to the use of BWV was: 

Data Protection Act 1998

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) is legislation that regulates the processing of ‘personal data’ or ‘sensitive personal data’, whether processed on computer, CCTV, stills camera or any other media. Any recorded image that’s aimed at identifying a particular person or learning about their activities is described as personal data and is covered by the DPA; this is therefore likely to include all images and speech captured using BWV. 

Principle 1 of the DPA (fair processing) requires that the data subject must be informed of: 

- The identity of the data controller; 

- The purpose or purposes for which the footage is intended to be processed; 

- Any further information that’s necessary for processing to be fair. 

Any force or BCU wishing to use BWV in their area should consider undertaking the following steps in order to comply with the requirements of the DPA. 

Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into effect in domestic law. Article 6 of the ECHR provides for the right to a fair trial. All images from BWV have the potential for use in court proceedings whether they provide information that’s beneficial to the prosecution or defence; they must therefore be safeguarded by an audit trail in the same way as other evidence that’s retained for court.

Further legislation 

 However, following trials and during the rise in use of body-worn cameras in UK police forces, further legislation was passed to ensure the proper deployment of this new, sometimes controversial technology. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) introduced legislation governing the use of surveillance-camera systems that monitor public space. This included the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (2013). 

Section 33(5) of PoFA provides a list of “relevant authorities” who must pay due regard to the code and other operators of surveillance camera systems who aren’t relevant authorities are encouraged to adopt the code voluntarily. The code covers all forms of surveillance camera systems including Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), Body-Worn Video (BWV), Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). 

This is an example of legislation adapting as law-enforcement methods are tried and tested, allowing adoption of these methods to increase: by 2017, a report published by civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch showed that 71% of UK police forces use body-worn cameras.

The ‘managed zone’ in Leeds 

The Holbeck district of Leeds, an underprivileged, working-class industrial neighbourhood south of the city centre, has been the site of a controversial pilot since October 2014: in a partnership between the police and the council, officers turn a ‘blind eye’ to sex workers and their customers in this part of town, as long as they take place between 7pm and 7am. 

The ‘managed zone’ or ‘managed approach’ allows street sex workers to operate without fear of arrest, as well as their clients. The rules of the ‘managed approach’ are kept under review by the local council and the police, with the current rules stated as being:

1. No offences will be tolerated at any time within residential areas; 2. No offences will be tolerated between 6am and 8pm; 3. No offences will be tolerated outside businesses that are operating; 4. Drug use, trafficking, organised crime and coercion will at no time be tolerated; 5. Crime, public order and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated; 6. Indecency will not be tolerated at any time. The scheme was introduced as a 12-month pilot back in October 2014 by the community safety partnership Safer Leeds—a group that includes Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police. 

Despite being controversial and drawing criticism—especially following the murder of sex worker Daria Pionko in December 2015, operating in Holbeck—the approach was intended to deal with issues created by the original, unregulated red-light district. Various approaches focused mainly on enforcement—either against sex workers or their clients—had been tried over the years, but had failed to make any significant impact on the level of street sex work in the city.

Those in favour of the ‘managed approach’ say it’s helping support services and charities to engage with the (often vulnerable) women involved in sex work, and that it has increased the reporting and successful prosecution of crimes committed against sex workers.

However innovative, trials like this—in which usual laws are temporarily suspended, under strict conditions—are not without their disadvantages and difficulties. In October 2018, LeedsLive. com reported that it took more than 20 vans to clean up mounds of waste from a “needle and condom hotspot” in Holbeck. On its website, the campaign group Save Our Eyes, says: “We aim to become a community where residents are not subjected to daily harassment from kerb crawlers, prostituted women, danger from discarded condoms, needles and sex industry litter.” 

However the council and West Yorkshire Police say the scheme is “under continuous review” and they are working to address residents’ concerns.

Whether this trial will have an impact on national legislation around sex work remains to be seen. A councillor recently submitted a White Paper on the managed zone for debate by full council, while Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn has also raised concerns about how the scheme is operating after meeting with Holbeck residents. A review is being planned for spring 2019. 

Eyesight and road safety 

In 2018 three police forces in England ran trials, testing the eyesight of all drivers they stopped in a bid to clamp down on drivers with defective eyesight. 

The forces taking part were Thames Valley, Hampshire and West Midlands, and those who failed to read a number plate from 20 metres (65 feet) away had their licences revoked.

Under current rules, the only mandatory examination of a driver’s vision takes place during the driving test; after a person has obtained a licence, it’s up to them to inform the DVLA if they develop vision problems. However, police can request an urgent revocation of a licence through the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency if they believe the safety of other road users will be put at risk if a driver remains on the road. This power was introduced in 2013 under Cassie’s Law, named after 16-year-old Cassie McCord who died when an 87-year-old man lost control of his vehicle in Colchester, Essex. It later emerged he’d failed a police eyesight test days earlier, but a legal loophole meant he was allowed to continue driving. 

Seven people were killed and 63 were seriously injured in accidents on Britain’s roads in 2016 when “uncorrected, defective eyesight” was a contributory factor, Department for Transport data shows. It’s no wonder, then, that new rules around eyesight are being considered, and trials like this take place to inform those law changes. West Midlands Police found during their trial that around one in every 20 failed the eyesight test. Between March and August, the force checked the vision of 81 motorists in total—all were required to read a number plate from 20 metres, just over 60 feet. Four of the 81 failed and had their licence revoked on the spot, after being deemed a potential risk to other road users. 

West Midlands Police then went on—alongside Hampshire and Thames Valley—to support a national driver vision campaign in September 2018, run by road safety charity BRAKE. It’s yet to be seen if these trials and campaigns will lead to the introduction of further legislation, building on Cassie’s Law.

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