The Metropolitan Police will appeal against a High Court ruling that it breached the rights of organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard with its handling of the event, the force has said.
In a ruling on March 11, two senior judges found the Met’s decisions in the run-up to the planned event were “not in accordance with the law”.
Reclaim These Streets (RTS) had planned the socially-distanced vigil for 33-year-old Ms Everard, who was murdered by former Met officer Wayne Couzens, near to where she went missing in Clapham, south London, in March last year.
The force said in a statement on Friday it had “taken time to consider” the decision but that it wanted to “resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events” in future.
“Following the High Court judgment issued on Friday, 11 March the Met has taken time to consider with great care the decision itself and the wider implications for policing,” the statement read.
“It’s absolutely right that we are held to account for our actions and that there is proper scrutiny of the decisions we make as a police force in upholding legislation and maintaining public order.
“We also respect the strong views held by Reclaim These Streets in defence of human rights and public protest, and their pursuit of justice for these views.
“As an organisation we work with, support and police hundreds of protests and events across London every day, and take our responsibilities under the Human Rights Act in doing so, very seriously.
“It’s important for policing and the public that we have absolute clarity of what’s expected of us in law.
“This is why we feel we must seek permission to appeal the judgment in order to resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events in the future.”
The four women who founded RTS and planned the vigil brought a legal challenge against the force over its handling of the event, which was also intended to be a protest about violence against women.
They withdrew from organising after being told by the force they would face fines of £10,000 each and possible prosecution if the event went ahead, and a spontaneous vigil and protest took place instead.
Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler argued that decisions made by the force in advance of the planned vigil amounted to a breach of their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly, and said the force did not assess the potential risk to public health.
Upholding their claim, the High Court found the Met had “failed to perform its legal duty” to consider whether the women might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering.
In a summary of the ruling, Lord Justice Warby said: “The relevant decisions of the (Met) were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.
“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.
“None of the (force’s) decisions was in accordance with the law; the evidence showed that the (force) failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty.”
RTS took urgent legal action the day before the planned event, seeking a High Court declaration that any ban on outdoor gatherings under the coronavirus regulations at the time was “subject to the right to protest”.
But their request was refused and the court also refused to make a declaration that an alleged force policy of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” was unlawful.
Couzens, 49, was given a whole life sentence at the Old Bailey in September after admitting her murder.
The policing of the spontaneous vigil that took place drew criticism from across the political spectrum after women were handcuffed on the ground and led away by officers.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services concluded the police “acted appropriately” when dealing with the event, but also found it was a “public relations disaster” and described some statements made by members of the force as “tone deaf”.