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Move to extend police powers around protests unlawful, High Court rules

21 May 2024 3 minute read
A “Not My King” protest taking place in Cardiff City Centre. Photo Bronwen Weatherby/PA Wire

Regulations which lowered the threshold for police intervening in protests were unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

Civil liberties group Liberty brought legal action against the Home Office over protest regulations passed by statutory instrument last year.

The Government measures lowered the threshold for what is considered “serious disruption” to community life, from “significant” and “prolonged” to “more than minor”.

‘Cumulative disruption’

They also allowed police officers to take into account “any relevant cumulative disruption” of repeated protests.

The regulations came after the Government tried to introduce the same changes when the Public Order Bill went through Parliament, but they were rejected by the Lords at the time by 254 votes to 240.

The step to restore the provisions by statutory instrument, which faces less scrutiny than primary legislation, was criticised at the time but passed last year.

At a hearing in February, lawyers for Liberty asked the High Court to quash the “unlawful” provision.

And in a ruling on Tuesday, two judges ruled for the group, finding the Home Office acted outside of its powers by reducing the threshold and failed to carry out a fair consultation process.

Lord Justice Green and Mr Justice Kerr said: “As a matter of ordinary and natural language ‘more than minor’ is not within the scope of the word ‘serious’.”

‘Unfair consultation’

The judges continued: “Under section 2A(b), when considering whether a public procession or assembly may result in ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’ a senior police officer ‘must’ take into account all relevant disruption and ‘may’ take into account any relevant cumulative disruption.

“If we are correct in our conclusion that ‘serious’ does not include ‘more than minor’, that affects how the police apply the connected concepts of ‘disruption’ and ‘cumulative’ because it is critical context to those provisions.”

During the hearing in February, lawyers for Liberty said the decision to make the regulations included a “one-sided, unfair consultation” with a “narrow” group of stakeholders, including the Metropolitan Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

In the 57 page judgment, the judges said that fairness was needed in a consultation.

Lord Justice Green and Mr Justice Kerr concluded: “Applying a broad standard of fairness we conclude that fairness required a balanced, not a one sided, approach, and the procedure adopted was not fair.”

Akiko Hart, Liberty’s director, said after the decision: “This ruling is a huge victory for democracy and sets down an important marker to show that the Government cannot step outside of the law to do whatever it wants.

“We all have the right to speak out on the issues we believe in and it’s vital that the Government respects that.

“These dangerous powers were rejected by Parliament yet still sneaked through the back door with the clear intention of stopping protesters that the Government did not personally agree with, and were so vaguely worded that it meant that the police were given almost unlimited powers to shut down any other protest too.

“This judgment sends a clear message that accountability matters and that those in power must make decisions that respect our rights.”

The judges granted the Home Office permission to appeal against the ruling and said any challenge should be expedited.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
26 days ago

Who do you think you’re kidding Mr Sunak, take your Modi-Lite ways and shove off…

Adrian Bamford
Adrian Bamford
26 days ago

It doesn’t matter. The Police have plenty of powers already: the problem is that they’re very selective about how they apply them.

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