Campaigners have won a massive legal battle after they proved that the police violated their rights to protest when around 120 peace protestors were prevented from reaching USAF/RAF Fairford on the 22nd of March 2003. Three coaches full of protesters were first stopped and searched, then forcibly returned to London under police escort. At the start of the war with Iraq, Fairford airbase in Gloucestershire (and the B-52 bomber planes that were flying from it) had become a focus for anti-war protest and direct action.
The High Court and Court of Appeal had already ruled that the police acted unlawfully in detaining protesters on the coaches. But on Wednesday 13th Dec, in a judgement that has implications beyond the Fairford case, Law Lords ruled that the police also violated the right to freedom of expression and lawful assembly. See campaign Press Release.
Original coverage on Indymedia UK: Pics 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Reports: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Video: 1 | 2
July 03: Civil Liberties and Anti-war Protest Policing | Aug 03: Judicial Review Granted | Feb 04: High Court Victory [ruling] | Dec 04: Court of Appeal Outcome [ruling]
Denied the right to protest
This overturned a previous High Court ruling that police did not violate the protesters' rights in this respect. Five Law Lords also dismissed a cross-appeal by the police against the "unlawful" decision to hold protesters on the coaches.
Peace campaigner Jane Laporte, under whose name the case was brought, said: "I am absolutely overjoyed. The Lords have confirmed that freedom to protest is something that should be treasured in this country and police don't have the right to take it away."
Lord Bingham said: "It was entirely reasonable to suppose that some of those on board the coaches might wish to cause damage and injury to the base, and to enter the base with a view to causing further damage and injury. It was not reasonable to suppose that even these passengers simply wanted a violent confrontation with the police, which they could have had in the lay-by. Nor was it reasonable to anticipate an outburst of disorder on arrival of these passengers in the assembly area or during the procession to the base."
The Lords ruled the police actions were unlawful because they were not prescribed by law and were disproportionate. Alex Gask, legal officer for human rights group Liberty, which had intervened as an interested party in the appeal, said: "Nothing less than our freedom of speech was at stake in this case. Unmerited concerns (on the part of the police) about some future breach of the peace cannot justify the denial of this fundamental right."
Ben Emmerson QC, representing the protesters, told the Law Lords that it was a fundamental right in Britain for citizens to gather to demonstrate peacefully on matters of public interest. He said it was the responsibility of the police to maintain public order "in a manner which fully respects the rights of those who wish to demonstrate peacefully".
Police who authorised two coach-loads of protesters to be stopped and passengers searched while being detained - and then escorted back to London - had breached that right, he said. Police lawyers had argued that rather than interfering with passengers' human rights, they were upholding them by protecting their lives, which would have been put at risk if they had broken into the air base. Which suggests that the US army are quite prepared to kill British citizens on British soil.