11:23, October 24 204 0 theguardian.com

2019-10-24 11:23:04
Extinction Rebellion begins legal challenge against protest ban

Lawyers for Extinction Rebellion are in the high court challenging a police order that effectively banned its supporters from assembling anywhere in London.

The order issued by the Metropolitan police last Monday under section 14 of the Public Order Act said XR activists “must cease their protest(s) within London”, in what was seen as an attempt to curtail the group’s two-week “October uprising”.

It was criticised by the civil rights groups Amnesty International UK, Article 19 and Liberty, which accused the Met of an unlawful and disproportionate assault on the right to protest.

Making the case for XR on Thursday, Phillippa Kaufmann QC told Mr Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Chamberlain they should quash the Met’s use of the order on the basis that it went beyond the law and was framed so unclearly that it was an abuse of power.

Section 14, the court heard, should only be applied to a single continuing assembly. But the Met had used the power to attempt to ban the whole of XR’s “autumn uprising”, which Kaufmann said comprised a number of assemblies, both continuing and intended.

She further argued the existing assemblies banned under the order were not clearly identified by police, which as a result “created a situation where individuals were uncertain whether restrictions applied to them or not”.

Before the hearing, Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer with XR’s legal strategy team, said their case – which they had streamlined since their initial application last week in the interests of urgency – would focus on the argument that police acted beyond the powers granted to them by law.

“We are proceeding on whether the Public Order Act gives them the power to do what they did,” Garnett said. “It’s quite an important principle.

“We think that more than 400 people have been arrested during the period of the ban, so it means there are a couple of hundred people whose arrests were maybe unlawful. That means they might have a case for false imprisonment.”

Police made the order on Monday evening last week, during XR’s second week of protests in the capital. Some activists linked the imposition of the order to their targeting of the financial district.

Almost as soon as the order was publicised, police officers moved in to clear a protest camp established by XR supporters in Trafalgar Square, which up to that point had been their only officially sanctioned protest site under the terms of an order.

The amended order had the effect of banning all subsequent protests by the group within the Metropolitan and City of London police force areas for the remainder of the week, although supporters continued to gather, hold protests and carry out direct action until Friday.

The application for judicial review has been brought on behalf of XR by Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas and Ellie Chowns of the Green party, the Labour MPs Clive Lewis and David Drew, the Labour activist Adam Allnut and the Guardian environment writer George Monbiot.

Lucas said: “The police use of a section 14 order to ban all Extinction Rebellion protests across the whole of London was a huge overreach of police powers.

“This power is there to help the police manage protests, not shut them down altogether. Extinction Rebellion are carrying a message we all need to hear. They won’t be silenced by a police crackdown, nor should they be in a free democratic society.”