Human Rights Act, ECHR and Government accountability / Protest rights

Court grants permission for Liberty legal action against Home Secretary

Posted on 04 Oct 2023

  • Liberty tells Home Secretary: “See you in court”
  • Legal action challenges decision to sign off anti-protest legislation previously rejected by Parliament
  • Move circumvents will of Parliament and violates separation of powers

The High Court has granted Liberty permission to take legal action against the Home Secretary Suella Braverman for unlawfully introducing new anti-protest legislation which had been democratically rejected by Parliament just a few months earlier.

Human rights organisation Liberty says the Home Secretary has acted unlawfully by using a statutory instrument to give the police more powers to impose restrictions on protests that cause ‘more than minor’ disruption. Statutory instruments are a way to bring a new law in without having to create a whole new bill.

Liberty argues the Home Secretary was not given the powers by Parliament to take this action, making her actions a serious overreach which violate the constitutional principle of the separation of powers because the measures have already been rejected by Parliament.

By bringing in these powers, the Government has been accused of breaking the law to give the police ‘almost unlimited’ powers to shut down protests due to the vagueness of the new language.

The Government’s plans to lower the threshold of what constitutes ‘serious disruption’ at a protest were previously voted out of the Public Order Act by Parliament earlier this year (30 January). The Home Secretary has now changed the definition to anything that causes ‘more than minor’ disruption.

A cross party parliamentary committee recently said this is the first time a government has sought to makes changes to the law through a statutory instrument which have already been rejected by Parliament when introduced in primary legislation.

The case will go to trial and be heard by the High Court at a date to be decided by the court.

Akiko Hart, Liberty interim director, said:

“We all want to live in a society where our government respect the rules – but the Home Secretary has deliberately done the opposite. The Home Secretary’s actions have enabled the Government to circumvent the will of Parliament.

“This is just the latest power grab from this Government, which has shown it is determined to erode the ways people can hold it to account, whether that’s in Parliament or on the streets. The Home Secretary’s actions give the police almost unlimited powers to stop any protest the Government doesn’t agree with – and the way she has done it is unlawful.

“We are taking legal action to make sure those in power are not allowed to put themselves above the law. Our message to the Home Secretary is clear – see you in court.”

Katy Watts, Liberty lawyer leading the case, said:

“The Home Secretary has side-lined Parliament to sneak in new legislation via the back door, despite not having the power to do so. This overrules Parliament who voted these same proposals down just a few months ago – and is a flagrant breach of the separation of powers that exist in our constitution.

“The wording of the Government’s new law is so vague that any anything deemed by police to cause ‘more than a minor’ disturbance could have restrictions imposed upon it. This same rule was democratically rejected earlier this year, yet the Home Secretary has gone ahead and introduced it through other means regardless.

“It’s really important the Government respects the law and that the Home Secretary’s decision is reversed immediately.”

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