Socialist Worker

Outrage after court allows police ban of Reclaim These Streets vigils

Issue No. 2746

On a Womens March in London in 2018

On a Women's March in London in 2018 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


In a disgraceful verdict the High Court has refused to set aside the police ban on a Reclaim These Streets (RTS) vigil on Clapham Common, south London, on Saturday.

Vigils are planned across Britain in response to the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard.

She passed through Clapham Common on the night she was seized.

A Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested first on suspicion of kidnap and later murder, as well as a separate charge of indecent exposure in a different case. Now the police have been allowed to ban those who want to protest.

Women are oppressed by the sexist system and failed by its courts and the cops. It has happened again.

Rape convictions in England and Wales fell to a record low in 2019-20 despite higher levels of reporting of rapes. Sarah Green from End Violence Against Women said that the figures had shown “starkly that we are right to say rape has been effectively decriminalised”.

And after harassment, violence and attacks, women are continually told to change their behaviour and dress.

Instead it should be the system that changes.

Resistance 

While Boris Johnson wrings his hands and judges side with the police, we need resistance on the streets. 

RTS organisers planned a socially-distanced vigil with all safety precautions. The Met initially said it was “trying to navigate a way through” and “currently developing a local policing plan” to allow the vigil to take place.

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Then the cops reversed their stance.

The police warned organisers that they could be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit a crime if they continued to plan the event. They could also face tens of thousands of pounds in fixed penalty notices and criminal prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.

In addition the National Police Chiefs’ Council told forces across England and Wales on Friday that they could not waive lockdown guidance banning gatherings. Their guidance came after it was discussed with the policing minister, Kit Malthouse. It says that he is “supportive”.

And the Scottish National Party health secretary Jeane Freeman, urged women in Scotland not to attend public vigils.

At the High Court on Friday, lawyers for the vigil organisers argued the Met was breaking the law by treating all protests as unlawful during the latest lockdown. They said that the restrictions on gatherings had to be interpreted within the context of the Human Rights Act, which gives some protection tofree speech and assembly.

Tom Hickman QC, barrister for the organisers, said there was no evidence that the police were considering human rights issues. He added that a police policy document from January says all protests are banned.

But the judge, Mr Justice Holgate, refused an application by the vigil organisers. They wanted the court to declare that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations is “subject to the right to protest”.

He also refused to make a declaration that an alleged Met policy of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” is unlawful.

After the verdict, rights group Liberty said, “It’s critical we can all challenge injustice, and make our voices heard. That is our human right. Safe, socially distanced demonstrations are possible.

“It's the police's duty to facilitate protests, not block them.”

Regardless 

This is not the end. This ruling has to be defied. People should attend the planned vigils anyway. Some have already said they intend to go to the Clapham Common vigil site regardless of the court decision.

What happens if thousands of people decide to take their allowed daily exercise by taking a walk on Clapham Common on Saturday evening?

Everyone should oppose the police restrictions—and the best way to do that is to continue to take to the streets.

The right to protest is under severe threat—during coronavirus and after it.

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An NHS workers’ demonstration in Manchester last weekend was broken up by police who fined organiser Karen Reissmann £10,000.

Last week Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published its plans for the future of policing protests. This came two days after the government announced proposed new laws granting more powers to officers and the home secretary.

Among other things, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will give home secretary Priti Patel powers to create laws to define “serious disruption” to communities and organisations.

Police could then use this to impose conditions on protests.

The HMICFRS report, ordered by Patel following Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests, outlines a “need to develop” covert intelligence gathering methods. It points to increased use of facial recognition technology and supports expanding stop and search.

We have to fight for the right to protest. 

For details of Reclaim These Streets vigils click here 

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