Climate activists are celebrating after a police ban on the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests was ruled unlawful, in a judgment handed down by High Court judges on Wednesday.
As part of its “Autumn Uprising,” the XR movement held 10 days of protest in October across the UK, which shut down key areas of central London, including Westminster, the City of London, and London City Airport.
From 9 p.m. on Oct. 14, however, London's Metropolitan police banned the group’s protests in London, under section 14 of the Public Order Act. The ban was lifted at 6 p.m. on Oct. 18.
The ban made it illegal to hold an assembly of two or more people linked to the climate group.
According to Met figures, more than 400 XR activists were arrested during the ban — with more than 1,820 people reportedly arrested during the entirety of the October protests, and 165 people charged.
But on Wednesday morning, the High Court quashed the ban, after a case was brought by seven leading supporters of XR — including Green Party peer, Jenny Jones.
“This is an historic win because for the first time we’ve challenged the police on overstepping their powers and we’ve won,” said Jones. “It’s great.”
Judges ruled that the police didn’t have the power to ban the XR protests, because the law didn’t cover “separate assemblies.”
“Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if coordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly within the meaning of… the act,” said Mr Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Chamberlain in their statement.
This is a victory for the right to protest - for everyone.— Liberty (@libertyhq) November 6, 2019
The Met’s ban on @ExtinctionR was grossly disproportionate and undermined the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
This ruling will help safeguard future protestshttps://t.co/sgKGtk4Eia
Big news - Extinction Rebellion wins challenge over protest ban!✊⌛️🌎 Turns out we are allowed to try to save the world afterall! Victory for common sense. #freedomtoprotest#climatecrisis@AnothervoiceWB@XR_Newbury@newburygreenshttps://t.co/Ac5fc2XSXi— Claire Willsher (@WillsherClaire) November 6, 2019
They added: “The XR autumn uprising intended to be held from Oct. 14 to 19 was not therefore a public assembly … therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it under … the act.”
The judges did say, however, that the act could be used lawfully to “control future protests which are deliberately designed to ‘take policy resources to breaking point.’”
Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer working with XR, told journalists outside the High Court that he was "delighted."
“It vindicates our belief that the police’s blanket ban was an unprecedented and now unlawful infringement on our right to protest,” Garnett continued. “It’s a victory for those who want to draw the government’s attention to what scientists have been telling us for decades.”
High Court judgment: @metpoliceuk's blanket ban on @ExtinctionR protests was unlawful. 👏 👏 👏— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) November 6, 2019
There must be no repeats of this attempt to suppress legitimate non-violent protest.#ClimateEmergency#ExtinctionRebellionhttps://t.co/YR2lM4SlZD
The Met police is reportedly disappointed by the ruling, and is now considering whether to appeal the decision.
Nick Ephgrave, the Met police’s assistant commissioner, said in a statement: “After more than a week of serious disruption in London both to communities and across our partner agencies, and taking account of the enormous ongoing effort by offers from the Metropolitan police service and across the UK to police the protest, we firmly believed that the continuation of the situation was untenable.”
“I want to be clear: We would not and cannot ban protest,” he continued. “The condition at the centre of this ruling was specific to this particular protest, in the particular circumstances at the time.”
One of the key demands of XR’s April protests was for Britain to declare a climate emergency. With that achieved, the group has three further demands for the UK.
First, they say, the government must tell the truth about plans to act on the climate emergency declaration. Then it must act by committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 — 25 years earlier than the current legally binding target of 2050.
Finally, XR is calling for a Citizen Assembly to be created immediately, bringing together ordinary people to respond to the climate crisis in a similar vein to jury service.