Back in 2011, Netpol member the Climate Camp Legal Team had an invitation we did not expect – to talk at a Seminar called “Policing and protest in an age of austerity” alongside Sir Hugh Orde, then President of Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
After we had gotten over the initial surprise, we asked Phil McLeish to give the talk. Phil has been involved in protest for over 20 years, is a trained barrister and formerly was staff at the now sadly defunct Rights & Justice Centre Friends of the Earth used to run.
The talk starts with Phil asking members of the audience (many who are serving police officers) to imagine if a protestor at the G20 had struck PC Simon Harwood then pushed him over and PC Harwood had died. He then asks them to put their hands up if they think it is likely that the CPS would have decided NOT to charge the protestor in this situation, as they did with PC Harwood. Whilst the audience are still squirming, he uses this to draw out that there are exceptions made to the rule of law, and that these are often deliberate.
Later on Phil makes a remarkable bit of analysis, that the police have an instrumental relationship to the law:
“Laws are a means to an end, clothes with which to dress up an objective and ones which only need to fit approximately. In this case (Kingsnorth Climate Camp) they (the police) wanted cover for their actions, they wanted to be able to point to something in the book that they would later be able to claim they’d been doing. The lack of fit wasn’t a huge problem – it might give rise to a civil claim or complaint, but this could be dealt with later by the lawyers.”
The claim that the police do not police according to the law, but use the law merely as an instrument to justify their actions is a bold one, but Phil justifies it using several examples.
Last week we came across the talk again, and it was still entertaining, relevant and cutting we decided to put it on the NetPol website. You can find Phil’s full talk here: http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/fms/MRSite/Research/HRSJ/Events/Seminar%20Series%202011/policing_austerity%20final%20Phil%20McLeish%20talk.pdf.