Protest rights

Liberty files legal action over protest arrests

Posted on 29 Mar 2021

  • Four Legal Observers arrested at recent protest outside Parliament
  • Liberty argues legal observers are exempt from current restrictions
  • Right to protest under threat from Policing Bill

Liberty has threatened legal action against the Metropolitan Police on behalf of four legal observers, arguing that their arrests at a recent protest were unlawful.

The human rights group warns that such arrests are part of a dangerous attack on the right to protest.

On 25 March, lawyers at Liberty sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Met, demanding that none of the arrested legal observers face fines and that legal observers at upcoming protests will be allowed to carry out their duties without fear of arrest or fines.

On 16 March, Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS), an organisation led by Black and Brown lawyers to monitor the policing of protests, sent a number of legal observers to demonstrations in London against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Four were arrested, three of whom are people of colour, despite the fact that they were all wearing hi-vis jackets marked ‘Legal Observer’. Two were taken into custody and detained into the early hours. All four were told to expect fines in the post.

When questioned by police they explained that they were exempt from lockdown regulations due to their role as legal observers providing voluntary services and, in the case of one, for work purposes that cannot be done from home. They were arrested, two were taken to police stations and detained until the early hours of the morning, and all were told to expect fines in the post.

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 through coercion.

Liberty sets out in the letter 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.

The Met has two weeks to respond to Liberty’s legal action.

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.

“The role of legal observers is to ensure that our right to protest is respected, and that the police act within the law. If the Met believe it is acting within the law and respecting protest rights, they should welcome such scrutiny. Their decision to make these arrests is the latest concerning intervention by officers and happened just days after the awful events at Clapham Common. The Met should commit to respecting the right to protest and make clear that legal observers can carry out their duties as part of this.”

In a statement, BPLS said: “We are deeply concerned by the Met’s impunity at protests and the sharp impact this has on racialised communities. From Mangrove in 1970, to Black Lives Matter last year, to the police’s harassment of Black activists in recent weeks – the arrests subject to challenge, of predominantly BBRG Legal Observers, are but another example of decades’ worth of racialised policing at protests.

“We remain committed to the effective and independent monitoring of protests, and to providing legal support to those attending or arrested. We therefore unequivocally support our Legal Observers’ challenge and call on the Met to desist from imposing any criminal sanctions against them.”

Contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128 or

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