Peace campaigners win right to challenge police mass detention tactics


Update, 16 August 2003

Peace campaigners have won the right to challenge police decisions to detain and prevent them from demonstrating against the war on Iraq at Fairford air base in March this year. Granting permission for their judicial review case to proceed Mr Justice Richards commented that the issues it raised were "substantial" and "of importance" to merit a full High Court hearing.

In the judicial review case the demonstrators argue that the police's actions breached Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom from arbitrary detention, along with Articles 10 and 11, the rights to freedom of speech and assembly, and Article 8 which requires respect for physical and psychological integrity. A full hearing should take place later in the year.

Bindman's press release, 16 August 2003

Legal challenge to mass detention of peace campaigners


Press release, Thursday 26 June 2003

Peace campaigners have launched a judicial review challenge which argues that the seven police forces breached their human rights by detaining and preventing them from demonstrating against the war on Iraq at Fairford air base. The case focuses on events near Fairford this March, but will have a much wider impact since the campaigners argue that the Human Rights Act prevents the from police relying on 'common law powers' to detain would-be protestors.

On 22nd March 2003 three coaches of about 150 peace campaigners set off to join a demonstration outside a US airbase at Fairford, Gloucestershire. The demonstration "Flowers for Fairford" was a day of mourning and protest at the base from which American B52 planes were leaving the UK to bomb Baghdad. The coach passengers detained included several of the scheduled speakers at the event.

Police from seven forces acting under the direction of Gloucestershire Constabulary stopped the coaches outside Lechlade, a small village near Fairford. The campaigners and the coaches were searched, a number of white paper overalls to be worn at the protest were seized as were two pen knives, some plastic toy soldiers, a hammer, a frisbee and a saw. There was one arrest for matters unconnected to the demonstration that day and the person involved was later released without charge.

The remaining campaigners were then invited to reboard the coaches. Once they had done so, officers told them that they believed a breach of the peace would occur at Fairford and the coaches would be escorted away. Once back on the motorway however, the coaches were surrounded by police vans and motorcycle outriders and forced to continue all the way back to London without a toilet break. Attempts to negotiate one by mobile phone with Thames Valley police headquarters and with the motorcycle outriders were rebuffed. A woman passenger on one of the coaches had to resort to urinating into a sandwich box in full view of two vans of police with video cameras. The coaches were caught in a traffic jam in Shepherds Bush enabling most of the campaigners to escape, though some were followed by police and a video made by one campaigner shows others being violently shoved along the road by officers.

The judicial review papers have been served on the police today. They claim that the police's actions breached Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom from arbitrary detention, along with Articles 10 and 11, the rights to freedom of speech and assembly, and Article 8 which requires respect for physical and psychological integrity. In around a month the High Court will decide whether the judicial review should have permission to proceed. If permission is granted a full hearing should take place later in the year.

Jane Laporte, the judicial review claimant said:

"It is vitally important that people can protest freely, especially about a war pursued without legal or moral justification. Up until 22nd March I was sure I had that right. The police apparently thought otherwise. The whole day seemed surreal. I could barely believe that the police so blatantly forced us back to London. Nor could I believe their concerted efforts to prevent the coach drivers from even pulling onto the hard shoulder. The police's actions were an attempt to marginalise and criminalise people who were not happy with simply marching from Embankment to Hyde Park, over and over again."

John Halford a solicitor at Bindman and Partners who represents Ms Laporte said:

"Democracies are founded on the right not to be detained without charge, freedom of speech and the right to protest. These basic rights are more important than ever in times of war, but that is also when they are most vulnerable to attack. This case involves just such an attack, one which is all the more astonishing given that the campaigners wished to demonstrate for peace and had done nothing which would have justified them being arrested or charged. We are looking to the High Court to give a clear and unequivocal signal that heavy handed, draconian policing of this kind is simply incompatible with the human rights standards now part of UK law. The decision on permission is a very positive indication of the courts' willingness to scrutinise conduct of this kind extremely carefully."

Contacts:

CND national press office: 07968 420 859, e-mail: pressoffice@cnduk.org

John Halford, Bindman and Partners: 0207 833 4433, e-mail: j.halford@bindmans.com

Liberty: 020 7403 3888

The campaigners also have a website with photos and links to video footage of the events of 22nd March: http://www.fairfordcoachaction.org.uk/
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Notes

1. On the 22nd of March 2003, three days after the start of the US/UK war on Iraq, massive anti-war demonstrations were held in three locations: London, Fairford, and Menwith Hill in Yorkshire.

2. The protest at Fairford was a legally arranged national demonstration that attracted between 2000-5000 protestors from across the UK. The demonstration organisers, the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors, organised a series of anti-war demonstrations at the airbase in Fairford during the build-up to war in Iraq. Local activist groups organised transport to Fairford from 37 locations across the UK. It appears that one other coach filled with protestors (from Swindon) was also turned back by the police. (For more information visit the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors website - http://www.gwi.org.uk).

3. Reports of excessive policing tactics have also come from a demonstration at Northwood military HQ (near London), where an estimated 200 peaceful protestors were corralled by an estimated 500 police on 6th April 2003. Similar tactics were used at Oxford Circus on May Day 2001. These are also the subject of legal action.

4. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in October 2000. It requires the police and other public authorities to avoid breaching key European Convention Human Rights Articles save where legislation makes this impossible. Amongst the key rights are Article 5 (deprivation of liberty must be justified in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law and on one of the five grounds listed in paragraph (1) of the Article), Article 8 (which requires justification for interference with private life, including those which impact upon physical and psychological integrity), Article 10 (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly).

5. At common law a constable may arrest a person without warrant who he or she reasonably believes will commit a breach of the peace in the immediate future. This power is subject to a number of strict restrictions, however: the belief must relate to an act or threatened act harming any person or, in his presence, his property, or which puts person in fear of such harm; the belief must relate to the likely actions of the particular individual against whom the power is used; and when the particular individual is acting lawfully at the time the power is used, the threat of his committing a breach of the peace must be sufficiently real and imminent to justify the use of such a draconian power.



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