In the News

Clapham Common, peaceful protest and bad timing

Mike McCartney

16th March 2021

What does the vigil have to do with the Human Rights Act?

Civil libertarians have pointed out that governments since the 1980s have been increasingly authoritarian.

Here in brief are just a few of the measures we could point (in no particular order) to:

•ASBOs – CRIMBOs •Detention without trial •Section 44 •RIPA (2000) •Secret courts •Public Order Act (1986) •CJA (1994) •SOCPA •Control orders – TPIMs •The surveillance state •The Investigatory Powers Act •Kettling •Snatch and Grab Arrests and the use of agent provocateurs

And in the early noughties it appeared that the (New) Labour government operated a somewhat Jekyll and Hyde approach: In terms of advancing rights ('Bringing Rights Home') there was much fanfare about bringing the ECHR into British law with the passage of the HRA. We could also add to that the Freedom of Information Act ('Your Right to Know'), but simultaneously there was also a raft of legislation with potential to (and actually) curtail personal freedoms. These are well, and rather brilliantly, documented in the Chris Atkins doc. film. "Taking Liberties" (available to watch in full on YouTube (free!). I remember someone describing the government's approach at the time as giving you a fiver with one hand, and taking a tenner off you with the other. (A Lady Godiva for a Pavarotti, in short.)

And then this brings us to events this weekend. How does the police force balance the fundamental right to peaceful protest, as specified in Article 11 of the ECHR ([1] Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. [2] No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, or the police, or of the administration of the State.) with the collective security of the nation in the midst of the covid pandemic? I'm sure readers will have an opinion on this, and this will very much be influenced by your reaction to the pictures circling on social media in the immediate aftermath of the first vigil. But in an action that only be described as unfortunate timing, Parliament happens to be debating a new security measure piloted by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

This is what the Guardian says:

"What does the bill say about protests?

The police will be able to impose conditions such as start and finish times on static protests, powers which officers already have in relation to marches. Additionally, senior officers will be able to impose maximum noise limits on protests, with powers to intervene when the noise is disrupting the “activities of an organisation” or has a “relevant impact on persons in the vicinity”."


In the same paper, Lady Shami Chakrabarti, shadow attorney general for England and Wales from 2016 to 2020, and director of Liberty from 2003 to 2016 asks whether in the wake of this weekend's events the police need new powers?


Also, have a listen to this brief clip of James O'Brien on LBC on why he opposes the bill...

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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