Drones and the Law

Thanks to major technological advances, drones are now inexpensive and readily available. However, anyone piloting a drone should be aware of the laws which relate to drones and the liabilities to users if they are not used responsibly and you can be prosecuted if you fail to comply with the rules.
The legal framework that governs the flying of drones in the UK requires the consideration of EU and International regulations. In most cases permission is required to fly drones near people and buildings. There are other legal issues such as data protection, privacy issues and liability in the event there is an error with the drone whilst in flight.
Owners and operators of all drones need to comply with various air regulations in force and there are strict laws that govern use in various circumstances, such as flight near congested areas, over congested areas, near people, over people, near buildings, over buildings. Use outside of the regulations can result in the operator and owner being liable for a full spectrum of offences, including trespass, nuisance, breach of privacy, breach of data protection. Breaches are both criminal and civil offences.
The Civil Aviation Authority (“CAA”) has introduced rules which will apply if you fly drones that weigh under 20kg recreationally. The full details of these can be found in Articles 94 and 95 of Air Navigation Order 2016,
The key points are as follows: i) You must maintain direct visual contact with your drone – this is normally understood as meaning that it must be within 500 metres horizontally and 400 feet vertically. ii) If your drone weighs more than 7kg, there is an absolute prohibition on flying it above 400 feet. iii) If your drone is capable of undertaking surveillance or collecting data – most likely because it has a camera – you must not fly the drone over or within 150 metres of any congested area – which is defined as any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes, or over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons; or within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle, structure or person not under your control. It can be seen from the above that more restrictive rules apply if the drone is capable of using a camera, and this is the case whether or not any camera footage is actually recorded. In an urban or suburban setting this is actually likely to cause issues for anyone piloting a drone on their own property, a point of which many people are unaware.
These basic rules apply to recreational use only. Anyone using a drone “for the purposes of commercial operations” (i.e. where you are being paid for flying the drone) will need CAA permission to do so. This may be where where professional photographers are using drones for aerial shots and in such cases they will need to be particularly careful. The details of commercial operations are outside the scope of this article, but if you need advice please call John on 01207654365.
If you intentionally or recklessly hit someone with your drone, you could be liable for battery, which carries both criminal and civil sanctions. If you intentionally or recklessly damage someone else’s property with your drone, you could be liable for criminal damage. If you fly your drone without exercising a reasonable standard of care and injure someone or damage their property, you could be negligent and liable to compensate the victim for personal injury or damage to property. If you fly your drone low over someone’s land without their permission, you could be liable in trespass, even if you do not personally go onto the land (although this is generally a civil rather than a criminal matter).
If your drone has a camera, you should consider the impact of the Data Protection Act 2018 on the collection of footage using the device. Compliance with the Act requires, among other things, that you only gather and use footage fairly and lawfully. The Information Commissioner’s Office guidance suggests that this would include making it obvious that you are responsible for the drone and that the drone is capable of filming. The guidance also highlights the importance of ensuring that you only record in appropriate locations using the drone – for example, using the drone to film your neighbour’s back garden is obviously likely to infringe their privacy; doing so repeatedly could amount to the offence of harassment. You can obtain more information about the law on drones from the CAA’s website.

If you are seeking further information or advice about any of the above, please contact John on 01207654365.

Disclaimer: This briefing is for guidance purposes only. We accept no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client’s own particular circumstances.

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