Fundamental rights / Policing / Protest rights


Posted on 28 May 2021

Legal observers play an essential role in a democratic society by ensuring everyone’s protest rights are upheld.

  • Relief for legal observers threatened with fines for monitoring protest
  • Met police recognise ‘important’ role of legal observers

Liberty and Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS) have welcomed a decision from the Metropolitan Police to back down in the face of legal action and commit to recognising the role of independent monitors at protests.

In a letter sent on Thursday, 27 May, lawyers at the Met responded to Liberty’s threatened legal action, confirming they will drop fines issued against four Legal Observers at protests in March and April.

In the letter, the Met also said “we accept that [Legal Observers] have an important role to play in providing independent scrutiny of protests and the policing of protests.”

Liberty filed legal action against the Met after officers arrested four Legal Observers at a protest against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – which itself threatens to stifle protest rights.

Legal observers play an essential role in a democratic society by ensuring everyone’s protest rights are upheld. They are there to ensure any police do not act unreasonably or attempt to restrict freedom of expression.

In its legal letter, Liberty set out why the Met’s decision to arrest the legal observers was unlawful. It also makes clear that its belief that this part of an ongoing attack on the right to protest by those currently in power at both the Home Office and at the Met.

Liberty lawyer Lana Adamou said: “We all want to be able to stand up for what we believe in and have our voices heard. The right to do so is under threat.

“This decision gives welcome relief to the legal observers who were arrested and threatened with fines simply for trying to protect the right to protest, but it should not have taken the threat of legal action for the Met to accept the critical role of legal observers, and these observers should never have been arrested.

“Our right to protest protects all of us, and for some of the most marginalised it can be the only way of having your voice heard. The Met police and this Government must end their campaign against the right to protest, and accept that we must all have the right to stand up to power.”

A spokesperson for Black Protest Legal Support said: “We are delighted that our Legal Observers now have confirmation that they will not face any criminal sanctions. However, we maintain that the arrests of our Legal Observers were targeted, discriminatory and unlawful, and form part of the wider chilling effect on the right to protest – which the state is currently legislating for through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

“We also know how important our monitoring of the police is in facilitating the right to protest and supporting, in particular, Black, Brown and Racialised protesters on the ground… Our Legal Observers will continue to be at protests to support those attending and to ensure the police are heavily monitored and scrutinised – not because the Met accepts it is necessary, but because we have always known that it is.”

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