A Judicial Review into a number of pre-emptive arrests that took place in the lead-up to the Royal Wedding starts today at the High Court.
On the 29th of April 2011, as William Windsor and Kate Middleton got married, the Metropolitan Police arrested dozens of people across London pre-emptively ‘to prevent a breach of the peace’. Innocent people were arrested, handcuffed and detained for crimes which they had not committed, in an apparent attempt to silence potential dissent. The arrests have been dubbed ‘precrime’ in many circles.
Thirteen months later, 15 of those arrested been granted leave to challenge their arrests by way of a Judicial Review which will begin at the High Court on Monday 28th of May 2012. It is hoped that the results of the court case will have an impact on future policing of such events such as the Olympics, or the Diamond Jubilee which will take place immediately after the Judicial Review hearing.
Those arrested on the 29th of April 2011 were not a cohesive group and they did not have cohesive aims. Some were people on their way to peaceful protests, some were people the police merely suspected of being protestors. Those arrested include members of the ‘Charing Cross 10’ who were on their way to a republican street party, the ‘Starbucks Zombies’ who were arrested from an Oxford Street branch of Starbucks for wearing zombie fancy dress, and a man who was simply walking in London and was stopped and arrested by plainclothes officers because he was a ‘known activist’.
All of the claimants were released without charge once the public celebrations had finished.
“It is our view that the treatment of our clients was unlawful under common law and was in breach of their fundamental rights” said a spokesperson from Bhatt Murphy, the civil liberties solicitors who are representing the claimants. “The apparent existence of an underlying policy that resulted in those arrests is a matter of considerable concern with implications for all those engaged in peaceful dissent or protest.”
The Metropolitan Police’s actions over the Royal Wedding weekend are part of a trend of the police using increasingly heavy-handed tactics against peaceful protestors. Such tactics create a ‘chilling effect’ which dissuades others from protesting in the future. The use of such tactics raises questions of constitutional significance with regard to the role of policing in a democracy.
The Judicial Review hearing will be heard with three other cases arising out of the police’s actions over the course of the Royal Wedding bank holiday weekend: two concerning raids on squats on April 28th by officers of the Metropolitan Police Service and the other arising out of another pre-emptive arrest of a minor on the day of the Royal Wedding.
Sophie Priestley, of Tuckers Solicitors, is also representing two environmental campaigners who were detained at what police described as an “environmental training camp” near Heathrow, the day before the wedding.
She said: “It appears that the police were determined to restrict or remove the sight of protest from central London during the royal wedding. With the Queen’s jubilee celebrations and the Olympics approaching it should not be forgotten that the real strength of our heritage and tradition lies not in the spectacle and pageantry of events like these, but rather in the rich history of our hard-won democratic freedoms.”