Protesting and Arresting: Extinction Rebellion threatens legal action after ban on protest

October 17, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Extinction Rebellion threatens judicial review of the police’s ban on their protest.

What does this mean?

Extinction Rebellion, (XR) a campaign to address climate change (see our report on their previous action here), has descended upon London for a two-week protest to peacefully occupy centres of power. This was stopped short on Monday night as police banned any XR protests in London. Police arrested over 1,400 after one week of the protest; more than in the April XR protest. Extinction Rebellion is a protest group which uses non-violent civil disobedience to campaign on environmental issues, launched in October 2018. The group has 3 main demands in the UK: for the government to declare a “climate and ecological emergency”, to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025, and to form a citizen’s assembly to oversee the changes.

What's the big picture effect?

Achieving these demands means drastic changes. This would involve severe restrictions on flying, rapidly increasing renewable energy development and dietary changes to reduce meat and dairy production.

The high number of arrests have mainly been under Section 14 Notice of the Public Order Act 1986. This allows Police to impose conditions on a static protest. Here they were originally used to force protesters to move to Trafalgar Square. What happens to the arrestees in these protests? The most likely sentence would be a conditional discharge; the court does not impose a sentence, providing no further offence is committed. According to the Extinction Rebellion website, approximately 10% of protesters who get arrested at their events get charged.

The police on Monday night (14th October), with little warning, removed protesters from Trafalgar Square. The Met Police said they were forced to stop protests due to breaches of the Public Order Act and ongoing serious disruption.

However, protests continued on Tuesday, targeting MI5 and the Department for Transport. Kevin Blowe, the coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), said “the section 14 powers are supposed to be used with caution because people still have a right to protest and potentially this is unlawful, and there is no other way to put it… My feeling is that this has to be open to some form of potential legal challenge”. This highlights the balance that needs to be struck between protecting people’s rights and preventing serious disorder.

The group has also sent a “Letter Before Action” to the Met Police. This is a step before launching a judicial review of the ban. Extinction Rebellion (XR) described the ban as a “disproportionate and unprecedented attempt to curtail peaceful protest”. The courts will have to decide if this did curtail human rights in judging whether the ban was a proportionate response.

Report written by Elizabeth Marshall

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