PHOTO: Black Lives Matter protesters gather outside Downing Street, 7 June 2020 (Michael Tubi / Shutterstock)


The information we received from independent legal observers on the ground during Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend was that a Section 35 dispersal order, enabling officers to direct people to leave and not return from the area because of “anti-social behaviour”, was authorised on Saturday for 24 hours and was therefore in place last night. This was based on assumptions about what individuals might do over this period. Although both kettling people and asking them to disperse seems completely contradictory, the kettles were justified by police over a more immediate concern about alleged “breaches of the peace”.

However, subsequent events indicate this was not the only reason for them.

On Sunday evening, legal observers witnessed the police only allowing protesters (including some minors as young as 12) to leave the kettles in ones and twos into a sterile area outside of the police lines, so that officers could film each individual. Face masks were pulled down to make sure faces were captured.

Officers also demanded people give their names and addresses under another anti-social behaviour power, section 50 of the Police Reform Act – we believe there was at least one arrest for refusing to comply with this.

We also had reports that officers were saying that “Mengesha rights do not apply tonight”. This is a reference to a High Court ruling in 2013 that police powers to prevent a breach of the peace cannot be used for other purposes such as intelligence gathering.

There are numerous issues of concern about the arbitrary use of police powers over the weekend. To begin with, protest is not anti-social behaviour, it is a legitimate means of exercising your rights and protected by the Human Rights Act. Applying a collective restriction using section 35 powers ignores international legal rulings that isolated acts of disorder do not automatically mean that all protesters forfeit their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

An individual does not cease to have these rights as a result of sporadic acts committed by others in the course of a demonstration. Collectively punishing everyone is disproportionate and potentially unlawful.

Secondly, there are serious questions about why officers felt it was acceptable to ignore the legal limits of their powers by photographing everyone leaving the kettle. Kettling is not permissible for any purpose other than to prevent a breach of the peace and only for as long as that remains likely to continue.

The Metropolitan Police has had to pay out tens of thousands of pounds for unlawful actions in the past and they can expect further legal challenges in the future.