Decisions by the Metropolitan Police that discouraged organisers from holding a vigil for Sarah Everard were against the law, according to High Court judges.
Police statements that Covid-19 regulations at the time meant holding the vigil would be unlawful, and had a “chilling” effect, contributing to the decision to cancel the vigil (an impromptu event was then put down by police with what some have described as brutal force).
None of the force’s decisions was in accordance with the law; evidence showed that the force failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty.
That’s a victory for justice. But the High Court had previously refused to declare that any ban on outdoor gatherings under the coronavirus regulations at the time was “subject to the right to protest” – or to declare that an alleged force policy of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” was unlawful.
And Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services concluded the police “acted appropriately” when dealing with the event.
So this raises an obvious question:
Are the High Court and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary fit for purpose if they can’t make a simple ruling in favour of the law?
In a ruling today (March 11), Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate found that the Metropolitan Police breached the rights of Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler to freedom of speech and assembly, and did not assess the potential risk to public health:
Reclaim These Streets (RTS) proposed a socially-distanced vigil for the 33-year-old, who was murdered by former Met officer Wayne Couzens, near to where she went missing in Clapham, south London, in March last year.
The four women who founded RTS and planned the vigil brought a legal challenge against the force over its handling of the event, which was also intended to be a protest about violence against women.
They withdrew from organising the vigil after being told by the force they would face fines of £10,000 each and possible prosecution if the event went ahead, and a spontaneous vigil and protest took place instead.
The policing of the spontaneous vigil that took place drew criticism from across the political spectrum after women were handcuffed on the ground and led away by officers.
Summarising the decision, Lord Justice Warby said:
“The relevant decisions of the (Met) were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.
“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.
“None of the (force’s) decisions was in accordance with the law; the evidence showed that the (force) failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty.”
If Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate could see this evidence and act upon it, there’s no reason other High Court judges could not do the same – and certainly no reason Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary – which should specialise in the law as it applies to the police – couldn’t.
Why did they make the wrong call, then?
And what will be done to correct what are clearly faults in the attitude of the people who made the wrong decisions?
It costs a fortune to take a case to the High Court; these organisations have a duty to the public to get their decisions right first time.
Sadly, experience suggests to This Writer that the usual action will be taken: nothing at all.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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