06:48, November 06 39 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-06 06:48:05
Extinction Rebellion protesters may sue Met as ban ruled unlawful

Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion protesters may sue the Metropolitan police for unlawful arrest after the high court quashed an order banning the group’s protests in London last month.

In a judgment handed down on Wednesday morning, Mr Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Chamberlain said the section 14 order imposed during XR’s “autumn uprising” in October was unlawful.

Dingemans said: “Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if coordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly within the meaning of ... the act.

“The XR autumn uprising intended to be held from 14 to 19 October was not therefore a public assembly … therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it under … the act.”

However, the judges noted there were powers within the act which might be used lawfully to “control future protests which are deliberately designed to ‘take police resources to breaking point’”.

The case was brought by seven prominent supporters of XR: Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas and Ellie Chowns of the Green party, the Labour MPs Clive Lewis and David Drew, the Labour activist Adam Allnutt and the Guardian environment writer George Monbiot.

Jones said: “This is an historic win because for the first time we’ve challenged the police on overstepping their powers and we’ve won. It’s great.”

Chowns, who was arrested in Trafalgar Square just after the Met imposed its blanket section 14, said she would be taking legal advice on whether to now sue the Met for unlawful arrest.

She was delighted at the outcome. She said: “I think it’s very important that we’ve won because the police actions were both disproportionate and also very dangerous.” She said curtailing free protest was a slippery slope.

Kevin Blowe, coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), who was in court to see the judgment handed down, said that although it was a good decision by the court, it left the police with serious questions to answer. “Someone really needs to be held accountable for the decisions that they made,” he said.

Q&A

What are Extinction Rebellion's key demands?

The UK group of Extinction Rebellion has three core demands:

1) Tell the truth

The government must tell the truth about the scale of the ecological crisis by declaring a climate emergency, “working with other groups and institutions to communicate the urgent need for change”.

2) Net zero emissions by 2025

The UK must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions, hitting net zero by 2025.

3) Citizens’ assembly

The government must create a citizens’ assembly to hear evidence and devise policy to tackle the climate crisis. Citizens’ assemblies bring together ordinary people to investigate, discuss and make recommendations on how to respond, in this case, to the ecological emergency.

In the US activists have added a further demand: “A just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable and indigenous sovereignty [and] establishes reparations and remediation led by and for black people, indigenous people, people of colour and poor communities for years of environmental injustice.”

Matthew Taylor

The ban was implemented under section 14 of the Public Order Act at 9pm on Monday 14 October and lasted until 6pm on Friday 18 October. In the meantime, according to Metropolitan police figures, more than 400 Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested.

The civil rights groups Amnesty International UK, Article 19 and Liberty criticised the issuing of the order as an assault on the right to protest.

Gracie Bradley, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, said: “This is a victory for protest rights in the UK. The Met’s Extinction Rebellion ban was grossly disproportionate and undermined people’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. This ruling will help safeguard future protests from police overreach.”

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