Friday, 20 July 2012

Arrests contemporaneously with the 2011 Royal Wedding

In what appeared to be pre-emptive strikes against anything considered to have the potential to be "trouble", around 100 people were arrested in advance of the Royal Wedding held on 29th April 2011.  Some of the legal issues were considered at Law and Lawyers - "Arrests in London on 28th April - Breach of the Peace etc."

The High Court Queen's Bench Division - Divisional Court - Richards LJ and Openshaw J - has given judgment in four linked claims for judicial review concerning the lawfulness of the policing of events at the time of and immediately prior to the Royal Wedding - R (Hicks and others) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and other cases [2012] EWHC 1947 (Admin).  

A central issue was whether the defendant Commissioner of Police operated a policy, or practice on the ground, of equating intention to protest with intention to cause unlawful disruption and adopted an impermissibly low threshold of tolerance for public protest, resulting in the unlawful arrest of persons who were viewed by his officers as being likely to express anti-monarchist views. The individual claims
raised numerous further issues concerning the lawfulness of the actions taken by the Police. Those issues engage the law relating to breach of the peace, general principles of public law, specific statutory powers and several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judgment is very long - exceptional even by modern standards -extending to 270 paragraphs.  Its length is explained both by the number of issues raised and also, and very importantly, by the fact that an assessment of the lawfulness of the numerous individual arrests and searches in issue requires detailed consideration of the particular factual circumstances of each.

The court referred to the four claims as "the Hicks claim", "the M claim", "the Pearce claim" and "the Middleton claim" and deals with them in that order.  Every claim was dismissed by the court.

At para. 152 the judgment states - ".... we find nothing in the various strands of the claimants' case, whether taken individually or cumulatively, to make good the contention that the policing of the Royal Wedding involved an unlawful policy or practice, with an impermissibly low threshold of tolerance for public protest."

In an article in The Guardian 19th July, Hannah Eiseman-Renyard comments - "If we had won the case the result could have helped stop the increasing de facto criminalisation of protest. As it stands, the judges chose to believe all these arrests and riot police raids on people's homes were lawful and proportionate responses to the "threat" posed. The high court's decision to dismiss all four judicial reviews gives tacit approval for the police to use these oppressive tactics time and time again at the Olympics and beyond. Apparently the smooth running of state pageantry is more important than citizens' rights to free speech and free assembly.

I am sorely disappointed by the result and I am worried for the future. The behaviour of the police over the royal wedding was draconian, clumsy, and seemed aimed at harassing those viewed as subversive.  We are looking into appealing the decision ..." (Extract from 'Arrest without crime - the truth of a royal wedding overreaction').

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