High Court judges throw out Met Police’s ‘hopeless’ attempt to appeal Sarah Everard vigil judgment

Vigil organiser says police should ‘finally admit they were wrong’ to claim vigil was illegal

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Monday 11 April 2022 19:10
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<p>A photograph of Sarah Everard is left with tributes to her at the bandstand on Clapham Common on 13 March 2021</p>

A photograph of Sarah Everard is left with tributes to her at the bandstand on Clapham Common on 13 March 2021

Judges have thrown out a “hopeless” attempt by the Metropolitan Police to appeal against findings that its handling of the Sarah Everard vigil was unlawful.

Organisers of an event on Clapham Common in March 2021 won a legal challenge after they were threatened with arrest and £10,000 fines under Covid laws.

The Reclaim These Streets group cancelled their planned vigil as a result, and hundreds attended an unorganised gathering that ended with several women being arrested amid allegations of heavy-handed policing.

Last month, the High Court found that Scotland Yard had breached the organisers’ rights with their handling of the event, and had made “errors of law” concerning Covid regulations.

The claimants – Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler – won their case that decisions made by the force in advance of the planned vigil amounted to a breach of freedom of speech and assembly, and that police did not assess the potential risk to public health.

The force announced its intention to appeal against the ruling, saying: “It’s important for policing and the public that we have absolute clarity of what’s expected of us in law.

“This is why we feel we must seek permission to appeal the judgment in order to resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events in the future.”

In a ruling handed down on Friday and made public on Monday, judges refused permission for the case to be taken to the Court of Appeal.

“The court applied and followed principles laid down by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal,” the ruling said.

“We do not believe there is a need for any further or more authoritative guidance for the purposes of lawful policing of protest in such cases.”

Ms Birley told The Independent: “The Met were wrong last March to ignore women’s right to protest, and they were wrong to try and appeal the court’s judgment too.

“It isn’t just us saying that their case is misguided, but the judges themselves have described their arguments as hopeless and incoherent too. Now, instead of wasting public money on a pointless battle against women's rights to protest, I hope they'll finally admit they were wrong and invest in measures to tackle misogyny and male violence.”

The judgment by Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate said the attempt had “no reasonable prospect of success” and there was no “compelling reason for an appeal to be heard”.

After considering Scotland Yard’s formal application to appeal against the High Court’s decision, and written submissions by both sides, they said it was “not arguable” that the court had made an error.

Reclaim These Streets founders (from left) Henna Shah, Jamie Klingler, Anna Birley and Jessica Leigh celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after winning their legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police in March

Judges said some arguments made on the police’s behalf were “unarguable in law or involve selective and misleading analysis of aspects of the judgment”.

They found a new objection raised by the Metropolitan Police had “no merit”, and other parts of its case “lack coherence”.

Judges found that arguments about what vigil organisers were told amounted to “hopeless attempts to challenge reasoned factual conclusions”.

“It is not permissible for the [Metropolitan Police] to re-argue the same points in order to submit that it is highly likely that the outcome would have been the same,” the ruling added.

Ms Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by serving armed officer Wayne Couzens, whose arrest was announced on 10 March 2021.

Later that day, newly formed women’s group Reclaim These Streets called a vigil on Clapham Common, where Ms Everard disappeared, for her and “all women who feel unsafe, who go missing from our streets and who face violence every day”.

Organisers liaised with police and Lambeth Council so the vigil could be managed safely and with a reduced risk of coronavirus transmission, but Scotland Yard “effectively vetoed” the event by declaring it illegal under Covid laws.

Scotland Yard told organisers the vigil would be “illegal” and that organisers could be fined £10,000 for organising a large gathering and arrested for assisting an offence. It later issued a statement warning people not to attend any vigil for Ms Everard, making clear it considered them unlawful.

As a result, Reclaim These Streets cancelled its Clapham Common vigil and more than 30 linked events that were to be held at the same time in different cities.

The original High Court judgment found that Metropolitan Police letters and statements “reflected a misunderstanding of the law”, and that the officers responsible had failed to understand the “reasonable excuse” provisions that meant all protests were not banned.

Judges said Scotland Yard had “mis-stated the legal position” under Covid regulations and made “errors of law”.

“In the name of equal treatment and ‘consistency’, the Met refused to take account of the nature of the claimants’ cause, and the attitude of the public to that cause,” said Lord Justice Warby. “This was wrong.”

The murder of Ms Everard was one of a series of scandals over crimes committed by Metropolitan Police officers, and allegations of misogyny and racism in the force, that culminated in the resignation of commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.

Priti Patel has mounted an inquiry into the events leading up to her decision to step down, amid a political row with London mayor Sadiq Khan over due process.

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