Metropolitan Police in Court over Protest Tactics
March 21, 2011
Judicial review of G20 Climate Camp containment and dispersal operation held in Crown Court
Days before mass demonstrations against cuts, the Divisional Court scrutinises the legality of kettling and use of force at G20 . The three-day judicial review of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the Camp for Climate Action at the G20 protests is to start on Tuesday. The claimants challenge decisions to kettle them, use of overwhelming violent force, and the dispersal of protesters before the Camp on Bishopsgate was due to come to an end. The test case is the first of
its kind to be considered by the Courts since the challenge to kettling at Oxford Circus on Mayday 2001.
On April 1st 2009, the Camp for Climate Action occupied a stretch of Bishopsgate, outside the European Climate Exchange. At about 7.00pm the police cordoned off the area at both ends, and prevented people from entering and leaving. During the evening, the police made a number of forceful incursions into the camp using batons and what were
referred to in officers’ notebooks as “tactics” such as “shield strikes” and “fist strikes”. Images of police violence provoked great controversy in the media. At about midnight hundreds of police dispersed everyone from the street, using dogs, riot gear and further violence. The police plan to open their case on Tuesday by arguing that a DVD showing the systemic use of unprovoked violence should be ruled inadmissible by the Court. It is understood they will argue what the DVD shows is not relevant to the case.
The judicial review is challenging the decision of the police to initially contain the camp, the violent dispersal that took place in the early hours of the morning, and the police use of force against the camp. The judicial review is being taken by John Halford from Bindmans solicitors on behalf of two climate activists who were present at the camp, Josh Moos and Hannah McClure. He said today:
“Many countries around the world take their cue from Britain as to what is acceptable in terms of the policing of protests on the streets of their capitals. This case exposes the shameful fact that many police officers lack even a basic understanding of their proper role which is to facilitate - not suppress - non violent protest. That problem extends from the officers on the ground who used force on a peaceful crowd as a first resort, to their senior commanders, who gave no guidance that doing so was unacceptable. It is very troubling that the police continue to maintain that the policing of G20 was an overall success, and want to prevent the Court considering evidence that plainly shows that was not so.”
Trina Fellows, who was present at the Climate Camp during the police eviction in 2009 said:
“For all the controversy surrounding the G20 police tactics and the subsequent enquiries, very little seems to have changed. In the recent student protests, police officers were still not displaying their numbers, and indiscriminate kettling was still happening. We need this court case to hold the police accountable for the heavy handed, disproportionate political policing that is happening against protesters.”
Chief Superintendent Johnson, who was in command during the G20 protests is expected to be cross examined in court by the protesters’ barrister, Mike Fordham, about the police decisions during the G20 protests.
Following recent controversy over undercover policing of protest and the kettling of children on anti-fees demonstrations, the policing of protest is again going to be under public scrutiny at the end of this week as numerous groups are planning to occupy spaces and take direct action as part of the broader ‘March for the Alternative’ demonstration planned by the TUC.
Legal professionals have expressed concern that cases like this might not be possible in the future due to government proposals to dramatically cut legal aid.
Frances Wright, from the Climate Camp legal team, said:
“The ability to challenge decisions of public authorities in this way is essential and it is often low income groups who need access the most; for protesters and all those affected by poor policing it is especially critical given the inadequacy of the police complaints system."