LONDON – London police violated the human rights of organizers in March 2021, when a woman was killed in March 2021, who was killed by a police officer on her way home, the UK Supreme Court ruled on Friday. the right of the police to block protests.
Verdict is happening at a particularly difficult time for the London Metropolitan Police Service, which is dealing with the resignation of its head Cressida Dick and the wider crisis of confidence after accusations of misogyny, racism and bullying in power.
Four leaders of the Reclaim These Streets group, which organized the protest after the woman’s murder, Sarah Everard, sued police after she canceled security, saying their rights had been violated. The group described the decision as a “women’s victory”.
“Last March, women’s voices fell silent. Today’s verdict convincingly shows that the police made a mistake when they silenced us, ” the organization said in a statement. “The decisions and actions of the metropolitan police ahead of Sarah Everard’s planned vigil last year were illegal, and the verdict sets a powerful precedent for protest rights.”
The decision was announced at a time when parliament is considering a controversial bill that would make it easier for police to impose restrictions on demonstrations and punish protesters who refuse to comply.
“The government must consider and abandon the police bill, which will give the police new powers that undermine our right to protest,” Said Bell Ribeira-Adia lawmaker whose constituency includes the area where Ms. Everard was abducted.
The court’s decision came almost a year after London police cracked down on a group of people who had gathered in a park in south London to remember Mrs Everard, just days after discovering her body.
Ms. Everard, 33, was abducted, raped and killed by a police officer, and her case became encapsulated. wider concerns about misogyny in the police and violence against women and girls.
In response, Reclaim These Streets scheduled a vigil at Clapham Common. Police banned the event, citing restrictions on the coronavirus at meetings at the time, and threatening organizers with fines of £ 10,000, about $ 13,000.
In any case, a spontaneous group gathered in the park, which quickly grew into thousands during the day. Although the event was largely peaceful and the crowd was allowed to stay for several hours, police began dispersing people, sometimes violently, with dusk.
When several women were arrested and handcuffed by police, images of their arrest caused outrage and calls for an investigation into the situation by the police.
The High Court’s decision on Friday contrasts sharply with the previous investigation Inspection of Her Majesty’s Police and Fire and Rescue Service, an independent monitoring group found that police had acted properly in an informal protest.
The ruling, announced Friday, was aimed at canceling a planned rally after four organizers – Jessica Lee, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler – challenged police in court.
The verdict found that London police had violated the organizers’ right to freedom of speech and assembly by not allowing them to hold a rally.
Judge Mark Warby, in the summary of the decision, stated that the metropolitan police service had “failed to fulfill its legal duty to consider whether the applicants could have a reasonable reason to hold the meeting”.
He added that police exceeded the step by making “statements at meetings, in letters and in a press release” that the coronavirus rules in force at the time “meant that holding the vigil would be illegal”.
“These statements violated the rights of the contenders because each of them had a” cooling effect “and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil,” he wrote.
David Allen Green, a legal commentator and lawyer for the London firm Preiskel & Co., called the ruling a “significant decision” that is rare in two respects.
“First, the court focused on the decision of the police, rather than the usual respect,” he said in a statement. “Second, he was serious about the legal right to freedom of expression, not just words. Achieving this is a great credit to the applicants’ legal team. “
The police have the right to appeal the decision. Louise Rolf, assistant commissioner of the metropolitan police service, said in a statement issued after the decision that the force was still deciding whether to continue the case.
But women’s rights organizations have said that at a time when trust in the police, especially among women, is so low, it may not be the best course of action.
Kim Manning Cooper, head of communications at Refuge, a charity that supports women and children who have been subjected to domestic violence, said the “Meta police decided to silence women’s voices” after Ms. Everard’s death.
“These actions were not only deaf, but, as noted in this ruling, were a violation of women’s basic human rights,” the statement said. Police, she added, “should think very carefully about their decision, whether to appeal the ruling, and the message it will send to women and girls across the country.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he welcomed the decision. According to him, the murder of Mrs. Everard damaged the public’s trust in the London police, and the way the police conducted this vigil, further undermined this trust.
“A number of events last year undermined the credibility of the police, and urgent and large-scale measures are needed to restore it,” he said. “I remain committed to doing my utmost to bring the police to justice, and to work with a goal to make the necessary changes.”