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Reclaim These Streets: the Met’s appeal against the Sarah Everard vigil ruling has been described as “hopeless”

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Lauren Geall
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Amy Beecham
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Reclaim These Streets just won its high court case against the Met over the handling of Sarah Everard’s vigil

Two High Court judges described some of the Met’s proposed grounds of appeal as “hopeless attempts to challenge reasoned factual conclusions”. 

Updated 12 April: A Metropolitan police appeal against a ruling that said the force breached the rights of the organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard has been rejected by the High Court.

Reclaim These Streets’ co-founders – Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler – were threatened with arrest and a £10,000 fine when they tried to organise a socially distanced event on Clapham Common in March 2021. A spontaneous vigil and protest took place instead, where multiple women were arrested.

Last month, a High Court judge ruled that the Met’s decision making ahead of the vigil was “misinformed”, “misleading” and “flawed at every single step of the process”.

The Met then went on to launch an appeal against the ruling – a move which has now been rejected by two High Court judges on the basis that there is “no need for any further or more authoritative guidance” for the lawful policing of such protests.  

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In their dismissal of the case, Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate said the Met’s lawyers must have misread the original judgment before launching the action.

“The court applied and followed principles laid down by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal,” they said. “It is not arguable that we erred in principle and see no other reason to believe that the Court of Appeal would be prepared to adopt a different factual analysis.”

The judges went on to describe some of the Met’s proposed grounds of appeal as “hopeless attempts to challenge reasoned factual conclusions”, saying that some involved “a misreading of one passage of the judgment, ignoring the overall context”.  

A screenshot of Reclaim These Streets' Tweet announcing that the High Court appeal has been overturned
Photo from Twitter @ReclaimTS.

Launching the appeal last month, the Met Police said it was doing so in order to “resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events” in the future.

“It’s important for policing and the public that we have absolute clarity of what’s expected of us in law,” the force said in a statement. “This is why we feel we must seek permission to appeal [against] the judgment in order to resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events in the future.”

While the latest ruling puts an end to the Met’s appeal for the time being, the force could still challenge the ruling by gaining permission from the Court of Appeal.  

A screenshot of a tweet from Reclaim These Streets marking their High Court victory
Photo from Twitter @ReclaimTS.

When the initial ruling was first announced, the founders of Reclaim These Streets said the decision showed that the police “were wrong to silence us”.

“The decisions and actions by the Met police in the run up to the planned vigil for Sarah Everard last year were unlawful, and the judgment sets a powerful precedent for protest rights,” a statement from the group read.

“We feel vindicated by today’s judgment. This case exposes the Metropolitan police’s total disregard for women’s human rights to assembly and expression.”

It continued: “We hope that the police can learn some important lessons. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on an appeal, we hope that they will invest funds in measures that tackle misogyny and keep women in London safe.”

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Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also welcomed the judgment, saying: “The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer damaged the confidence of Londoners in the police. In the wake of such a horrendous crime, the policing of the vigil in her memory eroded trust in the police further.

“I was very clear with the Met at the time that the scenes we saw at the vigil were unacceptable.”

Khan continued: “We know tens of thousands of dedicated Met officers have gone above and beyond throughout this pandemic – but it is clear today that there are still serious lessons to be learned in how their duties are carried out.”

A screenshot of Sadiq Khan's response to the High Court ruling
Photo from Twitter @MayorOfLondon.

Domestic violence charity Refuge added: “The vigil for Sarah Everard was a way for women to come together and express their horror at her murder at the hands of a serving police officer.

“But instead of allowing women to mourn her death, the Met police opted to silence women’s voices, declare the vigil unlawful and pressure the organisers to cancel it. This is alongside the heavy-handed approach they deployed with the women who went ahead and gathered.

“These actions were not only tone deaf, but as this ruling outlines, were an infringement upon women’s basic human rights. The Met should think very carefully about its decision on whether to appeal this ruling and the message that this would send to women and girls all over the country.”

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The statement continued: “With women’s trust in the police at an all-time low, the candidates to replace Cressida Dick as Met Commissioner must acknowledge the mistakes made and start the urgent work to rebuild this trust.

“The Met is an institution that is supposed to uphold the law and protect women and girls from violence and abuse, so it’s no wonder some women do not feel confident to report crimes committed against them with the Met’s track record.”

As reported on 20 January: Activists from the campaign group Reclaim These Streets are returning to the High Court today  for the second day of a judicial review into the Metropolitan police’s decision to ban a vigil for Sarah Everard after her murder in March last year.

Tom Hickman QC, who is representing Reclaim These Streets, said the organisers felt “their voices, their grief and anger, had been silenced at the very moment they needed to be heard by police and politicians,” despite the fact that they had told police about the planned vigil in advance, and suggested they would enforce social distancing, the wearing of face masks and adhere to the test and trace system.

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Hickman told the court: “The stymying of [their] right to hold the vigil in relation to an issue of pressing social significance – the protection of women against violence – and the need to ‘reclaim’ public space for Sarah Everard and the other women who had lost their lives or had been the victim of violence was the aim of the vigil.” 

In a written argument, Hickman added: “The most significant ‘threat’ identified was not public health but the perceived reputational risk to the [force], including in the event why were perceived to be permitting or facilitating the vigil.”

Two police officers
Tom Hickman QC said the organisers felt “their voices, their grief and anger, had been silenced at the very moment they needed to be heard by police and politicians”.

The claimants – Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler – are arguing that decisions made by the Met in advance of the planned vigil amount to a breach of their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly, and say the force did not assess the potential risk to public health.

They are asking the court for a declaration that their rights were breached and “modest damages”, which they intend to donate to a charity concerned with violence against women

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However, the Met has denied any wrongdoing, and representatives for the force will appear in court today to defend its decision.

In a statement issued before the hearing, the force said: “The Met was unable to give an advance assurance to the claimants that their involvement in organising the vigil would not put them at risk of enforcement action during, or subsequent to, that event.

“We do not believe our approach was founded on an inaccurate interpretation of the regulations or that this constituted an unlawful interference with the claimants’ rights.”

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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Amy Beecham