For immediate release
Outrage at arrests of Legal Observers
Five independent Legal Observers were arrested at the UAF and UEE organised demonstration against the EDL in Tower Hamlets on Saturday 7th September 2013. The five were part of a team of 14 Legal Observers organised jointly by the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group (LDMG) and The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.
The arrests occurred when about 150 demonstrators who had been kettled in Mansell Street and were entirely peaceful were arrested one by one for alleged breaches of Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. The five Legal Observers were contained in the kettle and remained to the end to ensure that the protesters were aware of their legal rights on arrest. The coordinators of the Legal Observers were shocked to witness their colleagues’ arrest.
Independent Legal Observers are a familiar sight on demonstrations and protests. The Legal Observers were clearly identified by bright orange tabards with the title “Legal Observer” writ large across their backs. The role of independent Legal Observers is to monitor police behaviour and to distribute “bust cards” which contain information about protesters' rights on arrest and details of solicitors they can contact if arrested.
Tony Martin, one of the coordinators of the Legal Observing team said:
“The arrest of five Legal Observers is outrageous. Although we have had individual Legal Observers arrested before, this is a very rare occurrence. What is different on this occasion is that the decision was taken at a very senior level of the Metropolitan Police. This is a clear attempt to interfere with freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 11 of the ECHR and will send shock waves amongst supporters of freedom and justice.”
Stephen Knight, from the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, said:
“Legal observers work independently of the demonstrations they monitor and are there solely to inform people of their legal rights and to monitor the way in which assemblies are policed. Legal observers are not part of the demonstration and we condemn attempts to criminalise them. Their presence and use at protests has become the norm and the police are fully aware of the role they play.”
The arrested Legal Observers have been released on police bail and are consulting solicitors about their next steps.
Notes for editors:
1. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and United East End (UEE) organised the demonstration to stop the racist English Defence League (EDL) entering Tower Hamlets. See http://uaf.org.uk/
2. The Legal Defence and Monitoring Group (LDMG) are Volunteers for the Defence of Civil Protest and the Right of Assembly. LDMG regularly organises Legal Observers at demonstrations. See ldmg.org.uk
3. The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers organises socialist lawyers, students and those with an interest in legal issues. It also regularly organises Legal Observers at demonstrations. See www.haldane.org
4. Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986 allows the senior police officer to impose conditions on a public procession if he or she reasonably believes that it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do.
A person who takes part in a public procession and knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed under this section is guilty of an offence, but it is a defence for him to prove that the failure arose from circumstances beyond his control.
5. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides:
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, of the police or of the administration of the State.