Report by JADC’s Derek Jardine, video by @LetMeLookTV
Riot cops in large numbers shutting down #candles4assange #FreeAssangeNOW #piccadillycircus pic.twitter.com/3BTVFc6IwV
— LetmelookTV (@letmelooktv) December 19, 2020
Our weekly Piccadilly Assange protest on Saturday 19th December at 4pm was once again dispersed by the police, including the territorial support group who parked up six vans on the Haymarket side of the Eros statue and swarmed over our group.
There were approximately twenty of us and we were each approached by an officer who declared our presence there to be unlawful under the Covid regulations and that we should leave immediately and go home or risk a fine and / or arrest. Some members of the group questioned officers as to why our gathering was illegal, while at the same time, the West End, including Piccadilly Circus was heaving with shoppers who were clearly not observing the Covid regulations. That question went unanswered, but we already knew the answer, which was that they were targeting us because we were making a political protest.
We all complied, and it took some time to gather up the placards, banners and candles from the steps of Eros, but eventually the area was cleared by the police who eventually left in their vans. By now it was raining very heavily and around a dozen of us took shelter under an overhang at Lilywhites along with many shoppers. But in roughly fifteen minutes, another load of police vans pulled up and very soon, a phalanx of police were heading towards us on foot, so we all decided it was time to split up and leave. Some of us retreated down Lower Regent Street while the others opted for Haymarket and eventually we lost the police who gave up the chase. They must have been watching us from CCTV.
It had been announced around 2pm that same day that London was going into Tier 4 as of midnight on Saturday. It almost appears that the police were applying the new Tier 4 regulations preemptively.
Using Tier 4 as a pretext to ban protest is the second round of such draconian restrictions using Covid as an excuse and is a thoroughly dangerous development. Protesting is a basic human right in a democracy and banning them using the pretext of Covid is just the latest example.
The only remaining exception to political protest at the moment is the right to picket your workplace, and that right only remains because of a successful challenge in the courts by Unite, the union. The Government caved in before the case was heard.
THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION ON TIER 4 RESTRICTIONS AND POLICE POWERS, HAS BEEN SOURCED FROM THE WEBSITES OF THE PROTEST SUPPORT LINE AND NETPOL
Coronavirus police powers and their use on protests
The most relevant aspect of the law, is that relating to outside gatherings.
New coronovirus regulations came into force on 2nd December 2020, after the November lockdown. (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020) and have been amended with addition of Tier 4 on December 20th.
For Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 the regulations allowed people to meet outdoors in gatherings of no more than 6 people but there was an exception which was that people could gather for the purpose of protest, and there seemed to be no limit specified on how many people could gather at a protest.
However for Tier 4 there is no such exception, so it is illegal to go to a gathering of more than 2 people outdoors for any reason. (There is an exception for picketing at a work place).
The fixed penalty notice for breaking the regulations is £200 for a first offence.
The police have the power to:
*Direct the gathering to disperse
*Direct participants to return home
*Use “reasonable force” to take a participant back to their home.
In addition the police have the power to:
Either – Issue you a Fixed Penalty Notice (£200 for a first offence, rising if you have received previous fines up to a maximum of £6400)
Or – Arrest you on suspicion of having broken the Coronavirus regulations. If successfully convicted under this legislation, the maximum penalty is a fine.
A Fixed Penalty Notice is not a criminal record, and will not show up on DBS checks, whereas a conviction could do.
So far, these powers have been used very variably at protests. Netpol’s Policing the Corona State blog has more details of how they have been used, and you can also contact Netpol with your experiences.
ISN’T THE RESTRICTION OF CERTAIN GATHERINGS A BREACH OF MY HUMAN RIGHTS?
Your right to gather is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights in two ways:
Article 10 protects freedom of expression.
Article 11 protects freedom of assembly and association.
This means that public authorities like police forces have to act in a way that doesn’t breach your rights. They must also take certain steps to help peaceful protests. However, these rights are “qualified” rights, meaning the Government is allowed to restrict them if it is proportionate and in the public interest. The coronavirus regulations (formally known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020) have been passed as emergency laws which allow for a restriction on our right to protest in response to the current Coronavirus pandemic.
What if the police stop and question me?
Normally, the police can stop you in a public place and ask for your name, where you are going and what you are doing. This is known as “Stop and Account”. In most circumstances, you don’t have to stay with the officer or answer their questions.
However, some police officers have used refusal to answer questions as a reason to believe that you are breaching coronavirus regulations. If you are at a protest and a police officer asks you questions, always ask “under what power” they are asking you questions, to check the officer is acting lawfully. Take the officer’s shoulder number and keep a note of what you were told in case you need to refer to it later. If the police officer is not able to tell you what power they are asking the questions under, you can simply walk away.
If the police officer does tell you which power they are asking you questions under, you can answer “No Comment” and walk away once you have answered. The rules are slightly different if you are arrested.
Be careful not to deliberately make it more difficult for the police officer to carry out their duties, and never provide false information – unless you have a lawful excuse, these could be seen as the offence of obstructing the police in the course of their duty. Refusing to provide information to the police is not obstruction, however. It is your legal right.
Can I film the police?
Yes, you are allowed to film the police.
However, be aware that sharing pictures and videos on social media may not be advisable, as it may prevent them from being used as key evidence in a criminal trial. This is a good rule to follow whether you are a protester or Legal Observer.
The only exception to filming the police is where the police believe the filming would be used for the purposes of terrorism (section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000).
If you would like to challenge a fine received under Coronavirus legislation, please contact the Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL).
Please contact them in strictest confidence at NetpolAdmin@protonmail.com. Alternatively, you can email Pippa Woodrow at Doughty Street Chambers at email@example.com
You do not need to answer police questions, so don’t. This is for your own protection and for the protection of others.
The police will try to pressure and deceive you into incriminating yourself. Instead of trying to decide when it seems ‘safe’ to answer, just say “No comment” to all questions – during ‘informal chats’, in the police van and especially in interview.
If your friend in the next cell knows you aren’t going to talk, they will feel better able not to talk themselves. Remember, interviews only help the police – they will not interview you if they already have enough evidence to charge you.
A good solicitor will sometimes suggest that you make a prepared statement in interview. In that case, you or your solicitor will read the statement and you should answer “No comment” to any more questions.
For a longer discussion, the booklet “NO COMMENT” produced by the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group is excellent.
No Personal Details
You do not have to give personal details under ANY stop and search power, so don’t.
On protests, the police often use searches as a way of finding out who is present, both for intelligence purposes and to intimidate you.
Police also use arrest as a means of gathering information, particularly when they arrest a large number of people together (“mass arrest”).
As a default, you do NOT have to give your personal details to the police at any point during the arrest process. However, since 2017, if you have been arrested, the police can require to say what your nationality is and can require you to produce nationality documents, if they suspect that you are not a British citizen.
We recommend not giving personal details to the police for as long as possible – for more information on why, see the page “Do I have to give my details?”. If you have been arrested and taken to the police station you may wish to give your name, address and date of birth at the custody desk to speed your release. Police will usually check the address and may visit at a later date.
Once you reach court, you can be required to give your name, date of birth and nationality.
There are a few situations in which police may have a power to require personal details: if someone is driving a vehicle (or another licensed activity); if they are being fined under a Fixed Penalty Notice; under a particular anti-social behaviour power (which should not generally be used against protesters); or if there is a particular by-law.
Ask “What power?” to challenge the police to act lawfully
Some police officers rely on you not knowing the law. If you are asked to do something by a police officer, ask them what power (i.e. what law) they are using and why they are using it. Make a note of what was said, by whom (numbers) as soon as possible afterwards.
Don’t let them turn this into a situation where they ask you questions though – just walk away once you have your answer, and remember No Comment!
No Duty Solicitor
Use a recommended solicitor with protest experience. The “duty solicitor” is the solicitor who is present at the police station. They may come from any firm of solicitors, which means they almost certainly know nothing about protest.
Duty solicitors often give bad advice to protesters; we recommend you always use a good solicitor who knows about protest.
Cautions are an admission of guilt. Offering you a caution is a way the police may ask you to admit guilt for an offence without having to charge you. It is an easy win for the police, as they don’t have to provide any evidence or convince a court of your guilt.
At the very least, you should never accept a caution without taking advice from a good solicitor.
For more information check the following websites:
Prtotest Support Line: https://greenandblackcross.org/contact/
I am booked to travel to London from Ireland to be at at the Old Bailey on morning of 4th January in solidarity with Julian. There is a possibility that I may not make it there due to restrictions …. But I will try. It is amazing that to try to find out where to get Covid test is an eye opener in itself. I believe that it is a requirement before being allowed to board an international flight. I was in touch with folk from the ‘Don’t Extradite Assange’ organisation and they very kindly gave me information as to which tube station nearest Old Bailey etc. I have been trying also to contact the UK Embassy in Dublin to ask if I need to quarantine on my arrival in UK from Ireland. Their “Emergency 24/7 phone line” – Leave your number and we’ll get back to you immediately is the reply. I have left 4 messages in last 7 days. No reply. It has been yet another fascinating exercise in search for truth/reality.
If I make it to London and if at the Old bailey early enough I will queue up with people hoping to be able to on in to the Court. As you mentioned above there are very few places available for observers. My flight arrives at Stanstead late pm on 3rd Jan. and departs Stanstead for Dublin on late evening on 4th January. I won’t need accommodation as I will stay at Stanstead then get early train from thereto London on 4th January. I will be socially distancing and masked as per protocol ….
With sincere best wishes. June Kelly – Ireland – Mobile: 00353861963134. (I am also a member of the “Free Assange Ireland” group. https://www.facebook.com/Free-Assange-Ireland-108045181097849/
This is a good and very helpful article. Thanks Derek