Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/6640
HOUSE OF LORDS HEARS CASE ON RIGHT TO DEMONSTRATE
LOIS AUSTIN -V- COMMISSIONER OF POLICE OF THE METROPOLIS
An important test case concerning the limitation of the police's power to control demonstrators will be heard by the House of Lords from 24th-26th November 2008.
Lois Austin, a member of the Socialist Party, was a participant in the May Day anti globalization demonstration in Oxford Circus in 2001. Although Ms Austin was a peaceful protester she was caught up in a police cordon imposed for over 7 hours and, despite repeated requests, was not allowed to leave the area to collect her 11 month old baby from the crèche.
Ms Austin said: "I would never have believed for one moment that if I went to protest peacefully on May Day 2001 with many others, that I would be held for seven hours against my will and be prevented from collecting my baby daughter."
Ms Austin and 3000 other members of the public, including passers-by who were not participating in the protest, were held until 9.30pm in the rain without toilet facilities. The Metropolitan Police accept that many of those contained had not committed any offence and posed no threat, but insist their detention was the only way to control a small number of trouble-makers in the crowd.
The Lords will need to determine whether the imposition of the cordon preventing people from leaving Oxford Circus was an unlawful deprivation of liberty in breach of Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights amounting to the false imprisonment of Ms Austin.
Louise Christian, Ms Austin's solicitor, said: "The outcome of this case will have wide-ranging implications for our right to protest without the risk of arbitrary detention. If Ms Austin's appeal does not succeed the police will in certain circumstances be able to arrest and detain individuals for long periods without the usual safeguard of needing to have a reasonable suspicion that they have committed, or will commit, a criminal offence."
Lois Austin will be represented by Louise Christian and Kat Craig of Christian Khan and by Heather Williams QC and Phillippa Kaufman of Doughty Street Chambers.