Liberty client takes kettling challenge to Court of Human Rights in landmark hearing

13 September 2011

On Wednesday Liberty client and kettling victim George Black is taking his fight to a landmark hearing at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Mr Black, 62, was caught in a police “kettle” for around seven hours in Oxford Circus, London on May Day 2001. The self-employed researcher, librarian and music teacher had been walking to a local bookshop when he was confronted by a police blockade. Officers informed Mr Black he could not go any further because of the ongoing anti-globalisation demonstration, and told him to instead take a road parallel to Oxford Street. He did so but was cordoned off by riot police on nearby Margaret Street and pushed back into Oxford Circus, where he and others were trapped. Mr Black was held in the rain with no access to food, water or toilet facilities and was not released until around 9.20pm. By that time it was dark and he felt very disorientated.

Liberty’s challenge will ask the European court whether the “kettle”, and preventing people from leaving Oxford Circus, was a breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights; the right to liberty. Mr Black’s case is being heard alongside that of Lois Austin – a demonstrator also caught in the police cordon – and two other parties.

James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty, said: “Kettling has never been considered by the Court of Human Rights before and it’s hugely significant that this case is being heard by the 17 judges of the Court’s Grand Chamber.

“Previous domestic rulings have suggested police tactics that day were not unlawful because they didn’t amount to detention – how was this anything other than detention?

“Mr Black was innocently going about his business and yet he and others were held for more than seven hours in very unpleasant conditions.

“The police should be able to deal with violent demonstrations without resorting to kettling.”

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128



1. “Kettling” is a police tactic whereby large numbers of protesters are detained within a cordon, often for several hours, trapping the innocent and vulnerable with the guilty and hostile, spreading alarm and frustration and potentially making a bad situation worse.

2.  On May Day 2001 the police cordoned off a large number of protesters, but also passers-by, in Oxford Circus and “kettled” them for around seven hours. Article 5 of the European Convention, the “right to liberty and security”, provides that people may not be deprived of their liberty except in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law and in one of six sets of defined circumstances. These include arresting or detaining someone “in order to secure the fulfillment of any obligation prescribed by law” and “for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence”.

3. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg will be asked how “kettling”, which would clearly seem to be a form of detention, can be legally justified and whether Mr Black, Lois Austin and others were detained in breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on May Day 2001.