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18 January 2022

Reclaim These Streets vigil: final hearing starts tomorrow, 19 January 2022

3 mins

The final hearing in the judicial review challenge brought by #ReclaimTheseStreets to the Metropolitan Police’s handling of a proposed vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, and in opposition to violence against women is due to start tomorrow, 19 January 2022, and is listed for two days. Bindmans LLP acts for the Claimants.

The women involved in #ReclaimTheseStreets were looking to organise a socially distanced vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday 13 March 2021 in response to the murder of Sarah Everard and the violence – often lethal – faced by women and girls on a daily basis.

However, following threats of criminal prosecution and fines from the Metropolitan Police, they brought an urgent court application seeking clarification that gathering for the purpose of protest was not necessarily unlawful under Covid regulations.

Despite apparently accepting this position in court, the police subsequently refused to change tack, threatening organisers with fines of up to £10,000 each. The women were forced to withdraw from organising the event.

A spontaneous vigil did take place, without #ReclaimTheseStreets’ involvement. The policing of that event has been the subject of sustained criticism.

Four members of #ReclaimTheseStreets are bringing a judicial review claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 seeking a declaration that their rights under Articles 10 and 11, the rights to freedom of speech and assembly, were breached. They also claim modest damages which will be donated to a charity concerned with violence against women.

The case will set an important precedent, not only on policing during the pandemic, but also on the importance of the police not using high level decisions that Parliament has made as reason to evade their human rights responsibilities. This is especially important now, given the proposed extension of police powers under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

In advance of tomorrow’s hearing, one of the four Claimants bringing the proceedings, Anna Birley, stated:

We are really pleased to be taking this important case forward. When we organised the vigil, we never imagined we would end up in the High Court – we believed then, as we believe now, that we have a very clearly defined right to protest, and that if there was ever a reasonable excuse for exercising this right, it was last March when a young woman was abducted, raped and killed by a then serving police officer.

At its heart this case is about the police accepting their responsibility under human rights law to facilitate peaceful protest – rather than their consistent attempts to silence and threaten women. Women were robbed of their chance to come together in solidarity to mourn Sarah and to stand up to the epidemic of violence against women and girls. We hope that the ruling will help set an important precedent that protects our right to come together in protest and solidarity in the future.

John Halford, Theodora Middleton, and Hannah Cheesebrough of Bindmans LLP act for the Claimants in the case: Anna Birley, Jessica Leigh, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler. Tom Hickman QC of Blackstone Chambers, and Adam Wagner and Pippa Woodrow of Doughty Street Chambers, are instructed as Counsel.

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