After days of high-intensity protest, Extinction Rebellion succeeds in challenge against Metropolitan Police protest ban.
Week two of XR autumn uprising, the Metropolitan Police imposed a ban of all XR protests in London under the pretences of Section 14 1986 Public Order Act in an attempt to halt further demonstrations. The Act allows officials certain powers to contain, manage, or dissolve protests altogether based on their judgment of the situation.
According to the act, a senior official who “reasonably believes that [public assembly] may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community,” can place conditions on public assembly, however, the court found that the police had acted “unlawfully” for various reasons.
Firstly, the law does not allow the prohibiting of protest, just to manage. Secondly, the senior official, Supt Duncan McMillan, needs to be present to make any imposing conditions.
Finally, and by Lord Justice Dingman’s ruling judgement, “The XR [Extinction Rebellion] autumn uprising intended to be held from October 14 to 19 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,” meaning that though the various protests were by XR, because the individual protests were separated by time and distance, the ban was not validated by the Act.
People in favour of XR’s efforts say that the police’s approach was an abuse of power, which expressed anti-democracy sentiment. A representative of XR, civil rights lawyer Jules Carey said, “The specter of the government now giving itself the power to prohibit all protests across the city would amount to a shocking assault on the right to protest.”
One of the most recent and controversial applications of Section 14 was in 2009 when police applied conditions of the act during protests going on around the time of the G20 London Summit. What resulted from that event was police in riot gear “kettling” protesters and the death of a bystander named Ian Tomilson who was pushed by an officer.
XR’s recognises that while their demonstrations are disruptive, they argue that it is a necessary action to call attention to “the reality of the climate crisis.” By halting the everyday mundane hustle and bustle, they force people to engage in conversation. XR hopes to achieve three main goals with their efforts: for the government to claim a climate emergency (which has been done), reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025, and for a citizens’ assembly to be formed so that it may oversee the process of politically fighting climate change.
The ban was lifted four days after its installation. Police said it was no longer necessary as protests were coming to a close. In conclusion, it cost the police £24 million with 1,828 arrests and 165 people charged with offences. After the ruling Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said, “I want to be clear; we would not and cannot ban protest.”
Photo by Lewis Parsons on Unsplash