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09 July 2021

Reclaim These Streets vigil: permission granted to challenge Metropolitan Police

3 mins

Permission has today been granted to Reclaim These Streets in their judicial review challenge to the Metropolitan Police’s handling of a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, and in opposition to violence against women.

Reclaim These Streets planned to organise a socially distanced vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday 13 March 2021 both in memory of Sarah Everard and in opposition to violence against women.  

Following threats of criminal prosecution and fines from the Metropolitan Police, the women brought an urgent court application seeking clarification that gathering for the purpose of protest was not necessarily unlawful.

Despite apparently accepting this position in court, the police subsequently refused to change tack, and the women were forced to withdraw from organising the event.

A spontaneous vigil did take place, without Reclaim These Streets' involvement. The policing of that event has been the subject of sustained criticism, including in the APPG report published last week. 

Reclaim These Streets are challenging by judicial review the police’s decisions which forced them to withdraw from organising the event on the basis that:

  1. The decisions were based on an unlawful belief that a gathering which was not explicitly exempted under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions)(All Tiers)(England) Regulations 2020 would necessarily breach criminal law;
  2. the decisions were a serious and unlawful interference with their rights under Article 10 and 11 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998 – the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, which together protect the right to protest.

The High Court has today held that the Claimants’ case is arguable on all grounds.

The case will now proceed to a two day judicial review hearing, on a date to be decided by the court.

John Halford, joint Head of the Public Law and Human Rights team, and partner at Bindmans LLP said:

Protest rights are vital and no forms of protest are more vital than those that seek to expose unlawful killings and demand accountability. Here the police lost sight of that, blinkering themselves with the Covid-19 regulations and maintaining a position than any protest involving more than two people was unlawful. The Permission decision marks the Courts’ willingness to grapple with what happened and decide whether rights really could be compromised in this way.

Jamie Klingler of Reclaim These Streets said:

We are pleased that the court has recognised the strength and importance of our case by granting permission for a full judicial review. If the Police cannot be held accountable for suppressing an organised, safe and peaceful vigil on the issue of violence against women and girls in the immediate aftermath of a murder by a serving police officer, then when where can there be any accountability? And what meaningful protest rights are there for anyone?

Bindmans LLP is acting 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.

Please find the order granting permission under the Supporting Documents section on this page. 

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