The high court gave judgment on a claim alleging that decisions made by the Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”) in March 2021 infringed the claimants’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The main judgment is given by Lord Justice Warby. Mr Justice Holgate gives a concurring judgment.
Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler brought a legal challenge against the Met Police over its handling of the event.
Members of a collective called #ReclaimTheseStreets which planned to hold a vigil on Clapham Common on 13 March 2021, in memory of Sarah Everard.
Covid-19 Regulations in force at the time restricted the holding of a gathering of more than 30 persons in a public outdoor place in a Tier 4 area, such as London.
The police were said to have (1) ignored the possibility that the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under Articles 10 and 11 ECHR might have supplied a “reasonable excuse” for contravening those restrictions on this occasion and (2) failed to conduct the fact- specific proportionality assessment which they were duty-bound to conduct in order to reach a decision on that point.
The court upheld the claim.
In his concurring judgment, Mr Justice Holgate observes that the three key guidance documents on policing the pandemic relied upon by the MPS had insufficient regard to the principles on “reasonable excuse” and proportionality established in authoritative case-law. Certain of the court’s conclusions mirrored views previously expressed in the report of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services on the Sarah Everard Vigil (dated 30 March 2021).
An urgent hearing took place in the High Court in the afternoon of 12 March 2021. During that hearing key legal principles were clarified. Afterwards the MPS failed to engage properly with the claimants on measures which could have enabled a vigil to go ahead in some appropriate form, to assess the residual risk to public health and to carry out a case-specific proportionality exercise.
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted “Trust and confidence in the police has been damaged by a series of recent events, and as Mayor, I’ll do everything in my power to deliver the urgent and wide-reaching change needed to restore it.
My statement following the High Court ruling on the Sarah Everard vigil: