Extinction Rebellion wins landmark legal challenge to Met Police ban on peaceful protest
November 06, 2019 by Zoe Blackler
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- The High Court rules the Metropolitan Police’s blanket ban of Extinction Rebellion protests was unlawful
- The landmark judgment upholds the peoples’ fundamental right to peaceful protest and prohibits the Police from any such future ban
- Judicial review was brought on behalf of Extinction Rebellion by Baroness Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis, David Drew, Ellie Chowns MEP, Adam Allnut and George Monbiot
- Several hundred Extinction Rebellion protesters, arrested under the ban, could now sue the Met for wrongful imprisonment and receive compensation
- Ruling in favour of Extinction Rebellion, the Court said: “We have held that the decision to impose the condition was unlawful…[the] decision to impose the condition on 14 October 2019 will be quashed”.
The High Court has today ruled that the Metropolitan Police’s blanket ban on Extinction Rebellion protest during the October Rebellion was unlawful, in a landmark judgment that reasserts the fundamental right to peaceful protest.
The ruling follows a judicial review – brought on behalf of Extinction Rebellion by Baroness Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis, David Drew, Ellie Chowns MEP, Adam Allnut and George Monbiot – into the legality of the Met’s attempt to shut down all Extinction Rebellion protests during most of the second week of the Autumn Rebellion.
The ban, implemented under Section 14 of the Public Order Act and covering the whole of London, came into effect at 9pm on Monday 14th October and lasted until 6pm on Friday 18th October.
Finding in Extinction Rebellion’s favour, Lord Justice Dingemans and Justice Chamberlain said: “We have held that the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because Superintendent McMillan had no power to impose it under section 14(1) of the 1986 Act…[the] decision to impose the condition on 14 October 2019 will be quashed”.
In their judgment, the Court agreed with Extinction Rebellion’s lawyers that: “the language of Section 14(1) itself makes clear that there is no power to prohibit rather than merely impose conditions on gatherings that have not yet begun”.
MEP Ellie Chownes, a complainant in the case who was arrested under the ban, said the judgement upheld the right to peaceful assembly and protest, a “fundamental cornerstone of our democracy”.
Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer in Extinction Rebellion’s Legal Strategy team, said: “Extinction Rebellion is delighted with the Court’s decision. It vindicates our belief that the Police’s blanket ban on our protests was an unprecedented and unlawful infringement on the right to protest.
Rather than wasting its time and money seeking to silence and criminalise those who are drawing its attention to the Climate and Ecological Emergency, we call on the Government to act now on the biggest threat to our planet. Where is its plan?”
Over 400 Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested during the four-day ban , the vast majority under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. Those not charged with other offences can now sue the Met for false imprisonment following their unlawful arrests and may be entitled to compensation.
Ellie Chowns, a Green MEP arrested while the ban was in place, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that we have won this very important case, defending the right to peaceful assembly and public protest. The judgment in our favour shows that the police clearly overstepped the mark when they imposed a blanket ban on any XR related protest. It was clearly ridiculous to arrest me for simply standing in Trafalgar Square, a pedestrianised public space. This judgment upholds the right to peaceful assembly and protest, a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy.”
George Monbiot, writer and climate activist also arrested under the ban, said: “This judgment is a vindication of those who have sought to defend our crucial right to protest. Non-violent civil disobedience is essential to democratic politics – in fact there would be no democratic politics without it. The attempt by the Metropolitan Police to shut down civil protest was a direct assault on democracy. I am delighted it has been struck down.”
Clive Lewis, from the Labour Party, said: “Peaceful protest is an essential guarantor of a free and democratic society, so I welcome today’s judgment. Extinction Rebellion is sounding the alarm about the climate and ecological emergency. Rather than trying to block our ears by shutting down their protests, we should be reacting to the danger they’re alerting us to. Averting that danger requires urgent and radical change, not the criminalisation of peaceful protest.”
Jules Carey of Bindmans LLP the Claimants’ solicitors said: “The ban was hastily imposed, erratically applied and has now been unequivocally declared unlawful by the High Court. The police have powers to impose conditions to manage protests but not to ban them. This judgment is a timely reminder to those in authority facing a climate of dissent; the right to protest is a long standing fundamental right in a democratic society that should be guarded, not prohibited by overzealous policing.”
Gracie Bradley, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, the civil rights organisation, 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.”
Kevin Blowe, Coordinator of Netpol, a group that monitors the policing of protest, said: “The police acted beyond their authority and we want to see senior officers held accountable for this extraordinary abuse of power. No matter how much pressure it faces from the government, the Met must now drastically rethink how it meets its legal obligation to facilitate and protect the rights of Extinction Rebellion to protest in the future.”
Notes for Editors
- According to the Met’s own figures
- RANKIN has joined forces with Richard Curtis to create a film for Extinction Rebellion, demanding from Governments #WhereIsYourPlan. https://rebellion.earth/2019/11/03/rankin-joins-forces-with-richard-curtis-to-create-film-for-extinction-rebellion-demanding-from-governments-whereisyourplan/
- On 15 October, London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote that he had not been informed of the Met’s decision to issue a city-wide Section 14 order and that he had met with senior officers “to seek further information on why they deemed this necessary” and had asked them “to find a way for those who want to protest the climate emergency we face to be able to do so legally”. https://twitter.com/sadiqkhan/status/1184164472862248961?lang=en
- Civil liberties groups from around the world condemned the ban and called on the UK government to reverse the decision. Fourteen members of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations – including Liberty (UK), The American Civil Liberties Union (USA), the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (Kenya) and Human Rights Law Centre (Australia) – issued a statement calling the move an infringement on the right to protest, which is both fundamental to democracy and enshrined in international law. (Full text available on request.)
About Extinction Rebellion:
Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.
Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.
Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:
- Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
- Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
- Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
- In the UK, come to one of our events, join the Rebellion Network and let us know how you can help out.
- Start a group where you are: in the UK or around the world.
- Find your local group.
- Check out the International XR website, with links to the French, German, Italian and UK websites.
- And while your time and energy are of most importance, if you are financially able to donate money, see our legal crowdfunder.
About Rising Up!
Extinction Rebellion is an initiative of the Rising Up! network, which promotes a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm. Change needs to be nurtured in a culture of reverence, gratitude and inclusion while the tools of civil disobedience and direct action are used to express our collective power.