Bindmans LLP are acting for Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Hennah Shah and Jamie Klingler, a group of women from London who came together following the tragic disappearance and suspected homicide of Sarah Everard, to plan a vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday 13 March.
Our clients wish to hold the vigil for Sarah and for all women who feel unsafe, who go missing from streets, or who face the fear of violence every day. They hope to provide an opportunity for women to come together at this moment of national grief, and to raise awareness, and provoke change in attitudes towards and understanding of the pervasiveness of threats faced by women. They wish to proceed with the vigil now, whilst what has happened to Ms Everard is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Our clients communicated their intentions to Lambeth Council, who are supportive of the vigil, and to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), who at first appeared supportive but have since stated that they consider the vigil would contravene the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 (the All Tiers Regulations) and have suggested our clients, as organisers, could be in breach of the Serious Crime Act 2007.
We consider the MPS are operating an unlawful policy by treating all protests as unlawul during this Tier 4 lockdown. Like all public authorites, the MPS is under a duty to interpret secondary legislation such as the All Tiers Regulations compatibly with the Human Rights Act 1998 where possible. It is possible to interpret the All Tiers Regulations compatibly with the HRA because the prohbitions on being outside, organising or participating in gatherings are subject to a ‘reasonable excuse’ defence.
This means the MPS must allow – and facilitate – the reasonable and proportionate exercise of the rights to free expression and assembly which are protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
Today we have made an application to the High Court for an urgent interim declaration that:
- Schedule 3A to the All Tiers Regulations 2020 insofar as it prohibits outdoor gatherings, is subject to the right to protest protected by the Human Rights Act 1998;
- the Metropolitan Police Service’s policy prohibiting all protests irrespective of the specific circumstances, is accordingly erroneous in law;
- persons who are exercising their right to protest in a reasonable manner will have a reasonable excuse for gathering.
The court heard this urgent application today at 3.45PM. We hope it will confirm that women can come together this weekend, safely and lawfully, in Sarah Everard’s memory.
Please find the grounds for the case linked on the right hand side of this piece.