A deeper look into the London XR protest ban

for immediate release

On Monday night the Met issued a blanket ban on the ongoing XR rebellion in London, effectively criminalising any public assembly linked with the protests. Rebels were ordered to cease all protests by 9pm or risk arrest, and police moved to clear Trafalgar Square, giving rebels an hour’s notice. They have also now cleared campers from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

The move has drawn widespread criticism from campaigners, politicians, and legal experts alike. Greta Thunberg tweeted: “If standing up against the climate and ecological breakdown and for humanity is against the rules then the rules must be broken”. Shadow Treasury secretary Clive Lewis tweeted: “The action by police overnight is a huge overreach of statutory power - we must protect our right to protest with everything we have. Huge solidarity with the rebels for life.”
London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, appeared to distance himself from the move, claiming “Neither I nor the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime was informed before the Metropolitan Police took the operational decision to impose a Section 14 order on Extinction Rebellion Autumn Uprising last night.” Khan also says he has “met with senior officers to seek further information on why they deemed this necessary.”
Amnesty International issued a statement calling the ban “chilling and unlawful”, but is it illegal? Article 11 of The European Convention on Human Rights (enshrined into UK law by the Human Rights Act, 1988) protects the right to “freedom of assembly and association”, including peaceful protest. Article 10, “freedom of expression” may also be at issue. Authorities can restrict these rights under certain circumstances, such as to prevent serious disorder or crime, but only when absolutely necessary, and the action must be proportionate.
An order allows police to constrain the size, location and duration of protests. A previous order had already been used to effectively quarantine rebels to Trafalgar Square, so this was a revised order. XR London tweeted: “They are back-tracking on promises made &, MEPs say, in contravention of UK law...” Met deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “These conditions have been imposed due to the continued breaches of the section 14 condition previously implemented and ongoing serious disruption to the community.”
XR lawyers wasted no time sending a 'Letter before Action' Tuesday morning, warning the Met to withdraw the order, and demanding they respond that afternoon, else they would file a claim in the High Court. Claimants on behalf of XR, including Baroness Jenny Jones, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis, George Monbiot, Green MEP Ellie Chowns (who was herself arrested in Trafalgar Square), and others will be bringing that action today, challenging the order via Judicial Review. They are hoping for an expedited hearing today or tomorrow morning. “The ban is a disproportionate and unprecedented curtailment of the right to free speech and free assembly,” says Tobias Garnett, an XR human rights lawyer. “We will call on the government and police to stop silencing protest and instead focus their efforts on telling the truth and acting now to deal with the greatest threat to our planet.”
If the Met refuse to back down, the test of the legality of this move will come when High Court Judges are tasked with weighing whether the decision to issue blanket suppression of fundamental human rights, over an entire city, was proportionate to the threat posed by peaceful protestors, and only what was strictly necessary. They may also consider whether the rebels’ actions were reasonable and proportionate, given the seriousness of the imminent threat posed to all life by the climate crisis.