AllAboutLaw Blog: facial recognition, the legalisation of cannabis and more

Welcome to AllAboutLaw’s weekly blog! This week, we will discuss police trials of facial recognition technology in the UK. We’ll also briefly take a look at changing attitudes towards the legalisation of cannabis and recent diversity figures among young judges.

  • Last updated Jul 17, 2019 12:03:04 PM
  • Anna Vall Navés
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Home secretary backs facial recognition trials despite fears of human rights breaches

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has given support to police trials of facial recognition technology, which is facing judicial review in South Wales and has been claimed to threaten people’s privacy. 

Automated facial recognition (AFR) uses computers to identify people by comparing facial features to those held in databases. Facial recognition software is designed to spot suspects in public places, and it has been trialled by forces including South Wales police and the Metropolitan police.

Ed Bridges, who is supported by civil rights group Liberty, mounted legal action in South Wales against the police’s use of AFR in May, claiming his privacy was violated when his image was captured in public and processed. Additionally, he claimed the weak regulation of AFR amounts to a breach of human rights. 

Javid, however, has claimed that it is important that police "be on top of the latest technology" in order to combat crime. “I back the police in looking at technology and trialling it and [...] different types of facial recognition technology are being trialled especially by the Met at the moment and I think it’s right they look at that,” he said.

Police facial recognition cameras have been used at festivals, football matches and demonstrations to detect faces and compare them with police photographs stored in databases, but there is no clear legal framework on when or how the technology should be used.

AFR has recently met criticism due to its inaccuracy, particularly when it comes to recognising women and ethnic minorities. Hannah Couchman of Liberty, a civil rights organisation, said: “The technology also discriminates. It’s more likely to misidentify people of colour and women and subject them to a police stop due to a false match. This technology has no place on the streets of any rights-respecting democracy.”

Criticisms of AFR are surfacing as police step up their fight against online child abuse, in which biometrics will be “game-changing”, according to Javid. According to the Home Office, new biometrics technologies will help speed up investigations and reduce the number of indecent images officers have to comb through.

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"Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free” – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

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Firm news

- The Bellwether Report 2019 titled “Is the Future Small?” has found that the small law firm sector is prospering and is likely to continue to do so.

- Stonewall, a charity that works to achieve equality for LGBT people, has named Allen & Overy, Baker McKenzie, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Frehills, Pinsent Masons and Simmons & Simmons Top Global Employers for 2019.

- Linklaters reports double-digit growth in profit and profit per equity partner (PEP) for the year ending April 30.

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Growing support for the legalisation of cannabis

A recent YouGov survey has found that public opinion is shifting towards the legalisation of cannabis, with twice as many British adults supporting it than opposing it. Forty-eight per cent of voters supported legalising recreational marijuana use, while 77% believed medicinal marijuana should be legalised. The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG), which commissioned the poll, said there was a “clear and growing appetite” for a change to drug policy in the UK. Mike Barton, former chief constable of Durham Police, said these poll figures show that “the British public agree criminalisation isn’t the solution to drug problems”.

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More than half of young judges are women

Official figures released last week have revealed that more than half of young judges in England and Wales are now women. The number of female court judges increased by 3% at all levels last year. While these figures have been hailed as a victory for gender diversity efforts in the profession, they also showed that the number of judges from ethnic minority backgrounds has not changed in the past year. Currently, 7% of court judges and 17% of tribunal judges are from ethnic-minority backgrounds.

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Recommended reading

1. As part of their social mobility campaign, #IAmTheBar, the Bar Council has released a video where barristers from under-represented backgrounds discuss their stories.

2. In LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog, Fran Amery provides a detailed analysis of the recent amendment to liberalise abortion law in Northern Ireland. 

3. More than 1,000 protesters who took part in the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations this year may face prosecution, as reported by Jonathan Ames in The Times. 

4. A briefing in The Guardian takes a closer look at the legal status of euthanasia both in the UK and abroad.

5. Also on The Guardian, Lily Kuo analyses how the death of a prominent “barefoot lawyer”—a self-taught legal advocate—has brought China’s treatment of political prisoners under scrutiny.

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