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Judiciary challenged over the right to protest
Policing on an anti-war demonstration, photo by Paul Mattsson
THE MAY Day Detainees went back to court last week. This time they appealed to the House of Lords against the judgement from the High Court, which said it was lawful for the Metropolitan Police to hold 3,000 anti-capitalist protesters for up to nine hours in Oxford Circus on May Day 2001.
Socialist Party reporters
Then, the detainees were contained and surrounded by rows of riot police and police on horseback and told they were not allowed to leave and were denied access to toilet facilities, food and water.
The May Day Detainees set up a campaign in defence of the right to protest which has involved court action, accusing the police of false imprisonment under the Human Rights Act.
The test case detainee is Lois Austin, Socialist Party member and campaigner. Lois was refused permission to leave the containment even though she had to collect her eleven month-old baby from a nursery.
The trial judge, Judge Tugendhat, proclaimed that the detainees were not aggrieved by their detainment but in actual fact quite enjoyed it! He also said that while there was a deprivation of liberty the police had no choice but to hold the crowd in this way because it was necessary to prevent a breach of the peace.
Policing on an anti-war demo, photo by Paul Mattsson
The findings of the original judgement are extremely dangerous for the right to protest in this country. It gives a green light to the police to ban any protest because one or two members of the crowd may be involved in, or about to commit, activity the police deem to be violent or threatening a breach of the peace.
The court of appeal took the view that there was no deprivation of liberty. They found that the detention in Oxford Circus was akin to holding away fans at a football match or holding car drivers up on a motorway after an accident.
They also said that the police action was justified under article 51b of the Human Rights Act because the crowd was being held to assist police officers in carrying out their duties, which were to arrest those threatening a breach of the peace. Apart from article 51b, the court of appeal said that the Human Rights Act did not come into it.
The detainees will get the verdict from the law lords in a couple of months but if the discussion in the court is anything to go by, it isn't looking good.
The sometimes surreal discussion on issues relating to human rights was eye opening at times.
A discussion on rights that we all believed to be unqualified, like the right not to be tortured, or to be illegally imprisoned, was alarming. Some of the law lords at the trial seemed to be hinting that maybe torture only becomes torture once a certain threshold is reached!
The May Day detainees' QC had to remind the law lords that the right not to be tortured is, according to the Human Rights Act, an unqualified right and thresholds of what is acceptable do not come into it.
We have to wait and see what the Law Lords' judgement will be. There didn't seem to be much sympathy for the detainees during the hearing. Whatever the verdict, the right to protest is under attack and must be defended.
In The Socialist 3 December 2008:
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