Policing / Protest rights

Liberty: Policing of BLM protest potentially unlawful

Posted on 07 Jun 2020

Liberty has responded to reports police kettled protestors at the Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday night (6 June) and demanded personal details as a condition for letting anyone leave.

The human rights organisation has said police actions were potentially unlawful and an attack on people’s right to protest. It has called on Cressida Dick, Met Commissioner, to give assurances officers will not act in the same way today but will instead facilitate protest.

Grey Collier, Liberty advocacy director, said:

“Yesterday’s actions by the police are concerning and potentially unlawful.

“There have been reports that police were demanding personal details as a condition for letting anyone leave the confines of the police kettle. If this is true, their actions were unlawful and nothing short of an attack on people’s right to protest.

“What’s more, kettling is an aggressive tactic in any situation which has long been used to stifle protest – but in a pandemic it’s one that’s particularly alarming to see. At the heart of this protest was the call for an end to discriminatory policing and police brutality. These actions underline that need.

“Serious questions need to be answered but in the meantime Cressida Dick must give urgent assurances that officers will not act in the same way today and will instead fulfil their duty to facilitate protest.

“Protest is how we speak truth to power, tackle injustice and demand our rights. It is a core pillar of our democracy and yet in recent years there have been attempts to limit it. Any police or Government action that undermines protest is a dangerous step that threatens our liberty. Now more than ever we must safeguard this right so we can stand up to power.”

Joint response from the Black Protest Legal Support UK (BPLS) team:

“The BPLS team are particularly concerned with the use of s.50 of Police Reform Act 2002 during the kettle at the BLM Protests at Downing Street last night. The police grouped together a large number (hundreds)  of protesters, and stated that if they wished to leave they would have to give their name, address, date of birth and be filmed from head- to- toe. When protesters asked what powers this was done under the police quoted s.50 of the Police Reform Act 2002.

“This was concerning because s.50 cannot and must not be used as a blanket power; S.50(1) states that “if a constable in uniform has reason to believe that a person has been acting, or is acting, in an anti-social manner, he may require that person to give his name and address to the constable.” The officer needs to be able to show what the person in question has committed acts that would amount to anti-social behaviour. Despite the police not being able to comment on what actions all of the protesters had taken part in that was ‘anti-social’ in accordance with the act, the police still insisted that everyone that was in the kettle must give over their personal details.

“The police have been challenged in the courts about the power to force individuals to share their details as a condition for leaving a kettle. The courts in Mengesha v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2013] EWHC 1695 (Admin) determined that this was not lawful.

“The police also did not allow our legal observers that were in the kettle to leave, despite their role as independent legal observers.

“Our Legal Observers and the protestors were eventually allowed to leave. Thanks to our Legal Observers, many protestors did not provide the police with their details as they had advice that this was potentially unlawful. However, the police required everyone leaving the kettle to be filmed from head-to-toe, it is not clear what power the police had to do this and was similarly used in the case of Mengesha and so this too is potentially unlawful.

“The use of kettling is particularly worrying during a public health emergency.

“This was not the only concern our Legal Observers raised. We had Legal Observers on the ground all day, and several reported intimidatory tactics used by the police at the protesters. There was also a note of the use of force against large crowds of peaceful protestors.”

Liberty, BPLS and others have made these bustcards for anyone attending Black Lives Matter protests in the UK during the coronavirus lockdown.

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