With one of our partner groups, Green and Black Cross (GBC), currently pausing its activities to reorganise and rebuild its capacity, the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) has stepped in to help coordinate a call for trained legal observers to volunteer during protests in London against next week’s state visit by US President Donald Trump.
Next Monday, Trump is due to attend a private lunch at Buckingham Palace and then visit Westminster Abbey in the afternoon, before heading to Clarence House near Green Park.
Legal observers are needed during the day and particularly on Monday evening in case there are protests to coincide with an evening state banquet taking place back at Buckingham Palace.
The main Together Against Trump national demonstration takes place on Tuesday 4 June, with organisers asking people to gather in Trafalgar Square from 11am so they are ready to follow Trump wherever he visits in the capital.
Thousands are expected to join the protest as Trump attends talks over lunch at Downing Street and then holds a press conference with departing Prime Minister Theresa May. The police are refusing to allow anti-Trump protestors to march down Whitehall.
Legal observers trained by either GBC or LDMG – this is important, we are only looking for volunteers who have been properly trained – are requested all day on Tuesday.
The assembly point on Tuesday is at 10am at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank.
If you would like to help out, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
What legal observers are (and what they are not)
With supporters of a defeated far-right European election candidate last week attacking the work of GBC and Netpol, because of the legitimate presence of a legal observer at a demonstration in Oldham, it is worthwhile reiterating the important role that legal observers undertake.
Legal observers are trained volunteers who are independent of a protest they attend and do not participate as activists. Our legal observers are identifiable by their orange hi-viz vests that are always printed (never handwritten) with the words “Legal Observer”.
They support protesters by briefing them about their rights and distributing bust cards. They act as independent witnesses of police conduct by keeping notes about the actions of the officers on protests, which may be later used to challenge the police on their behaviour.
Legal observers also monitor arrests, including identifying witnesses and helping to connect the arrestee with support in the police station. Their presence may also offer some deterrence to police wrongdoing.
Legal observers have no official legal status or privilege, but the police are often aware of the role. However, at the fortnight of climate protests in London in April organised by Extinction Rebellion, there were instances where their legal observers were targeted with the threat of arrest, apparently because the police were challenging their independence from the protesters.
As well as emphasising the positive role of legal observers, GBC and Netpol are clear what they are not: they are not lawyers, medics or stewards and they are never media spokespersons.
Neither do they ever act in a liaison role with the police: legal observers may occasionally speak to officers to find out information, but will not pass messages between police and protesters.
Speaking to the media, taking on a stewarding role by seeking to influence the conduct of protesters, holding a banner or taking part in singing or chanting is completely incompatible with legal observing, even if these are activities you may choose to participate in on another day.
All run the risk of damaging the credibility of any individual witness evidence gathered during a protest, which could make a significant difference to someone who has been wrongfully arrested or assaulted by the police.
It also increases the possibility of arrest and undermines the independence and safety of everyone volunteering as legal observers at future demonstrations and protests.
If this is the kind of legal support you are willing to offer and you are able to help next week, please get in contact as soon as possible at email@example.com