Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) yesterday commenced a legal case against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
They are challenging the unlawful imprisonment, through kettling of five people, including four sixth form students, at last Thursday’s student protests about tuition fees.
PIL’s clients complain that they were kettled in Trafalgar Square for hours and one client, a minor, was not released from the kettle until 7.00pm that night.
Given the sub-zero temperatures and the many thousands of people kettled, that is, of course, a matter of serious concern.
PIL have sent a Pre-Action Protocol letter to the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police setting out the legal arguments as to why kettling involves breaches of various human rights provisions: Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right not to be unlawfully detained, Article 10 of the ECHR, the right to freedom of expression, and Article 11 of the ECHR, the right of freedom of assembly.
The leading case on police tactics – Austin and Another v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis – is distinguished on the very different facts of that case compared with the events of Thursday.
In particular, on Thursday the police knew in advance all about the protest, had previously used kettling on other recent occasions (including against student protesters in London on November 24 2010) and appear now to be using kettling as a standard response to public protests.
Bethany Shiner, the lead Claimant in these proceedings, said yesterday: ‘I was with a group of young people who behaved at all times perfectly properly and lawfully.
‘We then found ourselves kettled in sub-zero temperatures.
‘I managed to get out only because I went to the rescue of a young man who had a head wound after being hit with a police baton.
‘It is outrageous that the police should resort to such tactics against all protesters most of whom were acting peacefully.’
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers said: ‘My clients are very concerned that the Metropolitan Police are now using kettling as a stock response to all public protests and appear to have authorised kettling in advance of this particular protest.
‘The police are required to have a range of lawful responses to different scenarios and not just resort to the most coercive tactics at the first sign of trouble.
‘The policy on kettling needs to be stuck down.’