Extinction Rebellion wins landmark legal challenge to Met Police ban on peaceful protest
By Zoe Blackler - 06. November 2019
The High Court today ruled that the Metropolitan Police’s blanket ban on Extinction Rebellion protest during the October Rebellion was unlawful, in a landmark judgment that reasserts the fundamental right to peaceful protest.
The ruling follows a judicial review – brought on behalf of Extinction Rebellion by Baroness Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis, David Drew, Ellie Chowns MEP, Adam Allnut and George Monbiot – into the legality of the Met’s attempt to shut down all Extinction Rebellion protests during most of the second week of the Autumn Rebellion.
The ban, implemented under Section 14 of the Public Order Act and covering the whole of London, came into effect at 9pm on Monday 14th October and lasted until 6pm on Friday 18th October.
Finding in Extinction Rebellion’s favour, Lord Justice Dingemans and Justice Chamberlain said: “We have held that the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because Superintendent McMillan had no power to impose it under section 14(1) of the 1986 Act…[the] decision to impose the condition on 14 October 2019 will be quashed”.
In their judgment, the Court agreed with Extinction Rebellion’s lawyers that: “the language of Section 14(1) itself makes clear that there is no power to prohibit rather than merely impose conditions on gatherings that have not yet begun”.
MEP Ellie Chownes, a complainant in the case who was arrested under the ban, said the judgement upheld the right to peaceful assembly and protest, a “fundamental cornerstone of our democracy”.
Tobias Garnett is a human rights lawyer in Extinction Rebellion’s Legal Strategy team: “Extinction Rebellion is delighted with the Court’s decision,” Tobias said. “It vindicates our belief that the Police’s blanket ban on our protests was an unprecedented and unlawful infringement on the right to protest.
“Rather than wasting its time and money seeking to silence and criminalise those who are drawing its attention to the Climate and Ecological Emergency, we call on the Government to act now on the biggest threat to our planet. Where is its plan?”
Over 400 Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested during the four-day ban, the vast majority under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. Those not charged with other offences can now sue the Met for false imprisonment following their unlawful arrests and may be entitled to compensation.
Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party also helped to bring the case. “The police use of a Section 14 order to ban all Extinction Rebellion protests across the whole of London was a huge over-reach of police powers,” she said. “This power is there to help the police manage protests, not shut them down altogether. Extinction Rebellion are carrying a message we all need to hear. They won’t be silenced by a police crackdown, nor should they be in a free democratic society.”
Clive Lewis MP, the Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for Sustainable Economics, also a complainant, said: “Extinction Rebellion is sounding the alarm about the climate and ecological emergency. Rather than trying to block our ears by shutting down their protests, we should be reacting to the danger they’re alerting us to. Averting that danger requires urgent and radical change, not the criminalisation of peaceful protest.”
Extinction Rebellion protester cleared of criminal damage after arguing her home was under threat from climate change
An Extinction Rebellion protester has been cleared of criminal damage for spray-painting a council building after successfully arguing she was acting to defend her property.
Angela Ditchfield was arrested after defacing the headquarters of Cambridgeshire County Council during a protest last December painting two XR symbols onto the building.
However, Friday the 41-year-old was found not guilty at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court as the bench said she was acting "on the spur of moment to protect land and homes".
Ms Ditchfield, from King's Hedges Cambridge, argued she had a legal excuse to commit the vandalism as she believed there was an immediate threat to her property from climate disaster, a defence that can be used in minor cases of criminal damage.
The defence is usually envisaged for scenarios where someone breaks a window or door to get into a burning building.
Delivering their verdict, magistrates said: “We find that you have a very strong and honestly held belief that we are facing a climate emergency.
“That you acted on the spur of moment to protect land and homes under threat from climate change, believing that immediate protection was necessary, and the action could be said to have been taken to protect property, and that you believed action chosen was reasonable in all circumstances.”
As the ruling was made in magistrates court it cannot set a legal precedent, but could be used by other members of the protest group as a defence against criminal damage.
The court case comes after thousands of members of the protest group have been arrested over the last year as it has launched a series of mass protests.
Police banned the group from protesting in London after more than 1,800 were arrested after the group occupied Trafalgar Square.
In April, XR protestors brought large parts of the capital to a standstill by occupying roads and gluing themselves to buildings, leading to more than 1,100 arrests and 900 being charged, although most received conditional discharges.
Last week, Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the protests had cost the police £37 million, led to other investigations being stalled and some policing “not done at all.”
Following the verdict, Ms Ditchfield, who has previously stood as a Green Party candidate for Cambridgeshire County Council, said she considered climate change to be "criminal damage to the whole web of life".
She added: “I’m happy to have had the chance to expose in court some of our local councils’ roles in that - from threats to build homes on my local park St Albans, to investments in fossil fuels and not making public transport affordable.
“I’ve tried all the democratic means and they weren’t achieving enough alone. We need more people using civil disobedience to force all levels of government to take the need for climate justice seriously.”