The High Court has ruled that a “Reclaim These Streets” vigil cannot be held for Sarah Everard.
Mr Justice Holgate has denied a motion by the organizers of a vigil for Sarah Everard in the High Court to make “an interim statement” that any ban on outdoor gatherings is “a right to protest” under coronavirus regulations.
In a ruling on Friday, the judge also refused to make a statement that alleged city police policies to “ban all protests regardless of the particular circumstances” are unlawful.
The legal challenge to the Metropolitan Police’s decision to end a proposed vigil following the death of Sarah Everard was heard in the High Court this afternoon.
Lawyers representing the organizers of the Reclaim These Streets event in south London on Saturday claim that the Met’s interpretation of Covid-19 restrictions is in violation of human rights law.
At the beginning of a televised hearing on Thursday afternoon, Justice Holgate said, “We all appreciate the tragic circumstances in which this case had to be brought and I am sure we all respect the particular sensitivities.”
Applicants’ attorney, Tom Hickman QC, told the court: “The vigil has a number of proposed features as described.
“Perhaps most importantly, it is a protest – and it is not disputed that it is a protest – as well as 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” within the meaning of coronavirus legislation, adding that it was “socially distant”.
Tom Hickman QC, who represented the organizers of the event, told the court that a risk assessment had been carried out, adding: “It is suggested that this be organized in a responsible manner in coordination with the council and the police.
“Precautions are being taken to ensure it is done in a Covid-safe manner.”
Mr. Hickman told Mr. Justice Holgate, “The Metropolitan Police have told my clients that this meeting cannot take place because the regulations prohibit meetings.
“They say that any gathering of people that 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 appropriate.
“It is crucial that they do not have to judge whether or not this is necessary as a legitimate exercise of the rights of the individual 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 is the position of the police and we say, for legal reasons, that this position is wrong.”
“At this hearing we ask the court to issue an interim declaration on the correct legal situation, in which the police would have to reconsider whether this demonstration is actually a legitimate exercise of the (human rights) conventions of these people or not to participate in it, which is not an issue that they (the Met) have faced.
“I understand that the city police believe it is not their job to conduct an assessment and wonder if preventing this gathering would prevent people from exercising their protected Convention rights.
“That’s what we say, the exercise the police have to do.”
Mr Hickman said that if the court issued an interim statement, “the police must therefore consider whether or not banning the protest would constitute a violation of the rights of those involved”.
He referred to the requirement under coronavirus restrictions to have a “reasonable excuse” to gather publicly.
Mr. Hickman asked, “What could be more sensible than exercising your right to protest?”