The prosecution of Cathryn Bolton, a mother who attended a vigil for Sarah Everard held in Liverpool on 13 March 2021, has been discontinued by Merseyside Police following representations by Bindmans LLP.
Ms Bolton, an NHS care coordinator, had attended the vigil last year with her son and a friend from her linked household (support bubble). She attended the vigil to gather with women and male allies to mourn Ms Everard’s death, and to protest against male violence towards women and girls. A key feature of the protest was to ‘reclaim’ public space for women. Ms Bolton took her son with her to witness this important moment and to teach him to grow up into a good man.
Intending to light a candle by the Burned Out Church, Ms Bolton was approached by police officers who administered a Fixed Penalty Notice for an allegation of participating in a gathering of more than two people, in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020. Astonishingly, the police said they would report Ms Bolton to social services for having brought her son with her.
It was not until December 2021, some nine months after the event, that Ms Bolton was charged with an offence in connection with her attendance at the vigil. The prosecution was brought under the Single Justice Procedure and Ms Bolton pleaded not guilty, with a trial listed for June 2022.
Ms Bolton’s defence included that her attendance at the vigil constituted a lawful and proportionate exercise of her rights to free expression and assembly, protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. The discontinuance of the prosecution follows the judgment in R (Leigh & Others) v the Commissioner for the Metropolis  EWHC 527 (Admin), in which the High Court confirmed that the Metropolitan Police breached the human rights of the organisers of the London vigil for Sarah Everard, ignoring that exercise of Article 10 and 11 rights was capable of constituting a ‘reasonable excuse’ for what might otherwise contravene lockdown regulations, and failing to conduct a fact-sensitive proportionality assessment when interfering with their protected Article 10 and 11 rights.
Ms Bolton said:
The vigil should have been an opportunity to mourn Sarah and other victims of male violence in a safe and respectful way. In a world where violence from men is normalised, and then to a high extent internalised, we need to internalise that violence is not ok. Taking this case to court was for me an exercise in my human rights. Thank you to the many people who have supported me since this has happened.
Patrick Ormerod, solicitor at Bindmans LLP who represented Ms Bolton, said:
This case is another example of overzealous police misapplying confusing secondary legislation during the pandemic. While the Duchess of Cornwall avoided enforcement despite attending a much larger event on Clapham Common the same day, Ms Bolton and many others have been fined or arrested, prosecuted, and – in some cases – probably wrongfully convicted because of an unwillingness, on the part of police forces, to accept that gatherings for protest could be lawful during lockdown, depending on the circumstances, and that a fact-sensitive proportionality exercise is required before interfering with freedom of expression and assembly.
Cathryn Bolton was represented by Patrick Ormerod and Lodovica Degan of Bindmans LLP and Pippa Woodrow of Doughty Street Chambers.