The High Court has ruled that a ‘Reclaim These Streets’ vigil for Sarah Everard cannot go ahead.
Mr Justice Holgate has refused an application by the organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard for the High Court to make “an interim declaration” that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations is “subject to the right to protest”.
In a ruling on Friday, the judge also refused to make a declaration that an alleged policy by the Metropolitan Police of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” is unlawful.
The legal challenge to the Metropolitan Police’s decision to stop a planned vigil following the death of Sarah Everard was heard at the High Court this afternoon.
Lawyers representing the organisers of Saturday’s Reclaim These Streets event in south London claim the Met’s interpretation of Covid-19 restrictions goes against human rights law.
At the start of a remote hearing on Thursday afternoon, Mr Justice Holgate said: “All of us appreciate the tragic circumstances in which this case has had to be brought and I am sure we all respect the particular sensitivities involved.”
The claimants’ barrister Tom Hickman QC told the court: “The vigil, as it is described, has a number of proposed characteristics.
“Perhaps most importantly, it is a protest – and it is common ground that it is a protest – as well as being a vigil in the more normal sense of the word.”
In response to a question from the judge, Mr Hickman agreed that the vigil would be a “gathering” under the coronavirus legislation, adding that it would be “socially distanced”.
Tom Hickman QC, representing the organisers of the event, told the court a risk assessment had been carried out, adding: “It is proposed to organise it in a responsible manner, in co-ordination with the council and the police.
“Arrangements will be made to ensure that it is conducted in a Covid-secure manner.”
Mr Hickman told Mr Justice Holgate: “The Metropolitan Police have said to my clients that this gathering cannot go ahead because gatherings are prohibited under the regulations.
“They say that any gathering of people which constitutes a protest is prohibited by the regulations and it is not up to them, the police, to make an assessment of whether or not it would be reasonable.
“Critically, (they say) it is not up to them to make an assessment as to whether or not it is necessary as a legitimate exercise of individuals’ rights under Article 10 and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Article 10 protects the right to freedom of expression and Article 11 protects the right to freedom of assembly.
Mr Hickman continued: “That’s the police’s position and we say, as a matter of law, that position is wrong.”
“We ask the court in this hearing to grant an interim declaration as to what the correct legal position is, which would require the police to think again about whether or not this demonstration is in fact a legitimate exercise of convention (human) rights of those participating in it, which is not a question they (the Met) have asked themselves.
“My understanding is that the position of the Metropolitan Police is that it is not a matter for them to conduct an assessment and ask themselves whether preventing this gathering would prevent people from exercising their protected convention rights.
“That is what we say is the exercise that the police needs to do.”
Mr Hickman said that, if the court granted an interim declaration, “the police will therefore need to consider whether or not prohibiting the protest would represent a breach of the rights of those involved”.
He referred to the requirement under coronavirus restrictions to have a “reasonable excuse” to gather in public.
Mr Hickman asked: “What could be more reasonable than exercising your right to protest?”