Tuesday 15 March 2022

Protest ~ important High Court judgment

On the evening of 3 March 2021, a serving Police Officer - Wayne Couzens - purported to arrest Sarah Everard who was walking home having visited a friend. Couzens said that she was in breach of Covid 19 regulations. He murdered her and disposed of her body near Ashford, Kent. 

On 30 September 2021, Couzens was sentenced at the Old Bailey to a "whole life term" - Sentencing Remarks.

Reclaim These Streets is "an informal collective" which, prompted by Sarah's disappearance, planned to hold a vigil on Clapham Common on 13 March 2021. The aim was to highlight risks to women's safety and to campaign for changes in attitudes and responses to violence against women.

Following communication with the Metropolitan Police, the planned vigil was abandoned. A number of members

of Reclaim the Streets sought a judicial review claiming that the Police had adopted a legally incorrect interpretation of the Covid Regulations. The claimants argued that the Police had categorised the proposed vigil as "unlawful", meaning criminal, merely because it would contravene the restrictions on gatherings.

It was claimed that the Police -

(1) ignored the possibility that the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly might have supplied a "reasonable excuse" for contravening those restrictions on this occasion and 

(2) failed to carry out the fact-specific proportionality assessment which they were duty-bound to conduct in order to reach a decision on that point. 

Due to that legally mistaken basis, the officers made decisions and statements that prevented, or at the very least discouraged, the claimants from carrying out their plans to hold the vigil.

In a detailed judgment, the High Court decided in favour of the claimants - Leigh & Ors v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2022] EWHC 527 (Admin) (11 March 2022) (bailii.org)

The evidence showed that the Metropolitan Police failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have had a reasonable excuse for holding a gathering.

The court's judgment has already been examined in detail by Shaheen Rahman QC in a post on the UK Human Rights blog - Victory for claimants in Sarah Everard vigil case - UK Human Rights Blog

The judgment is notable for the court's attention to the importance of Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. This has particular resonance at the moment because of the obstacles to protest which the government has inserted into the Police, Crime,  Sentencing and Courts Bill. I wrote about those HERE. The government also plans to impose various restrictions on human rights protections within the UK. That is the subject of a number of posts - see Law and Lawyers: Human Rights reform ~ consultation (obiterj.blogspot.com)

The court also noted that the absence of reasonable excuse was an ingredient of the offence defined by the Regulations. If a prosecution was to succeed it was necessary for the State to establish to the criminal standard that there was no such reasonable excuse. The possibility that Article 10 or 11 might justify the holding of a restricted gathering had to be considered by law enforcement agencies before exercising the powers conferred on them.

It is well known that a vigil did take place but it was NOT organised by the claimants. The actual vigil became the subject of a report by HMICFRS - see Law and Lawyers: Clapham Common 13 March 2021 ~ Report on policing (obiterj.blogspot.com)


Director of Public Prosecutions v Ziegler & Ors (Rev1) [2021] UKSC 23 (25 June 2021) (bailii.org)

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Parliamentary Bills - UK Parliament

Wayne Couzens sacked from Met Police after admitting murder of Sarah Everard - LBC

15 March 2022

Update 5 June 2022:

Met police blocked from fresh challenge to Sarah Everard vigil ruling | Sarah Everard | The Guardian

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