The demonstrations that blocked roads and caused gridlock in central London by Extinction Rebellion I covered in a previous blog post – see https://tinyurl.com/yavgwvlk . Subsequently there have been similar demonstrations on Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge by “yellow-vest” Pro-Brexit supporters. Clearly the fact that the police took no action on the first event is causing others to copy.
Why did the police take no action? I wrote to Police Commissioner Cressida Dick querying why not as obstruction of the public highway is clearly an offence. I got a response from Chief Superintendent Elaine Van-Orden who is responsible for the “Public Order and Resources Command”. This is some of what she said:
“Whilst highway obstruction is an offence, when policing protest activity, we have an obligation to balance our policing response with those fundamental rights that exist under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 2000 (HRA). These articles relate to the individuals having the right to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly and Association. As such there is an expectation that individuals should be permitted to exercise these rights by way of peaceful protest. Police can however intervene if there is a likelihood of serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, resulting from protest activity.”
She goes on to say (summarised) that the Extinction Rebellion protests were peaceful and relatively brief. To arrest in such circumstances might be seen as unreasonable. Event organisers only have to inform the police in advance (under Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986) if there is a march or procession. Static protests are OK it seems.
I also wrote to the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) who are responsible for the road network and have legal obligations under the Traffic Management Act to minimise disruption but their response was that all protests are managed by the police so it was nothing to do with them. They are in error I suggest on that point.
I shall be responding further to these communications as I do not believe the Human Rights Act supports the stance of the police. However much some of my readers might support the Pro-Brexit demonstration, London will soon be gridlocked if anyone with a bee in their bonnet on any subject can sit down in the road and block traffic.
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