Five Legal Observers are suing the Metropolitan Police for their arrests, detention, and assault whilst monitoring police violence at protests in London in March and April 2021 against the then Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The Legal Observers, four volunteers and the Legal Observer Coordinator for Black Protest Legal Support were arrested at the ‘Kill the Bill’ protests and fined for allegedly breaching the COVID-19 regulations.
After a legal challenge supported by the human rights organisation Liberty, the Met police dropped the case and acknowledged that legal observers at protests have an important role to play in the independent scrutiny of policing.
A spokesperson for the claimants said: “We are suing the Met police because our treatment was characteristic of the aggression and impunity police forces across the UK act with every day.
“By arresting us as legal observers, the Met police made clear their desire to evade any scrutiny in their treatment of ‘Kill the Bill’ protesters.
“But we refuse to be intimidated and to be silent about the police violence that we experienced and witnessed when observing several protests in recent years, including Kill the Bill protests in London and Bristol, Palestine solidarity protests in Central London, the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, and at Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
“We also hope this challenge will shine a light on how monitoring the police, at protests or in our communities, is a vital tool in holding this toxic and oppressive institution to account.
“Whether that is through legal observing, local police monitoring groups or bystander intervention, it is crucial that we collectively defend the right to protest against escalating state repression and urgently create alternatives to policing to protect our communities from its widespread and rampant racism, misogyny and violence.”
The five Legal Observers, now represented by civil liberties lawyers at GT Stewart, have launched a legal claim against the Met police for assault, false imprisonment, and discrimination, as well as infringement of their rights to freedom of expression and association under the Human Rights Act.
They also claim that their arrests formed part of a wider chilling effect on the right to protest, which was exacerbated by institutional racism in policing, the authoritarian COVID regulations, and the Government’s plans to suppress protest rights through new legislation – which has since been enacted.
The claimants have highlighted their brutal and heavy-handed treatment by the police during their arrests, which resulted in three of the Legal Observers being taken to police custody and held for hours, including overnight. One Legal Observer was strip-searched, and another was asked to remove a religious covering in public view. The majority of the Legal Observers arrested were from racialised communities and women or non-binary, and all of the Legal Observers were subject to intimidatory and humiliating treatment. They were also all kept under investigation for months before the Met dropped any charges against them.
Despite the Met police being forced to drop any fines or prosecutions and accepting the role of legal observers at protests, the police force has refused to accept the arrests were unlawful and is resisting the Legal Observers’ claim.
(Source: Freedom News)