SRT grantee partners celebrate legal victory as Government’s anti-protest measures are found unlawful

In what two SRT grantee partners have hailed as a “victory for democracy”, the High Court has declared the UK Government acted unlawfully in implementing legislation that gave police “almost unlimited” powers to restrict protests. In its judgment published in May 2024, the Court determined that then Home Secretary Suella Braverman enacted the anti-protest measures in June 2023 without the necessary parliamentary authority, leading to an order for the law to be quashed. The legal challenge was brought by Liberty, while Public Law Project acted as an intervenor.

The legislation had significantly lowered the threshold for when police can impose conditions on protests from anything that caused ‘serious disruption’ to anything that was deemed as causing ‘more than minor’ disruption. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested under these measures, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was acquitted in February 2024.

The Government had initially tried to pass these powers as part of the Public Order Act in January 2023, but the proposals were rejected by Parliament. However, in June 2023, Braverman pushed through the law via secondary legislation, which typically requires less Parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

Liberty accused the Government of passing legislation “with the clear intention of stopping protesters that the Government did not personally agree with”. Meanwhile, Public Law Project stated that; “the Home Secretary fell woefully short of [Parliamentary] standards, and her actions crossed a line which no Minister of State of any Government should have even thought about crossing.”

The Court also found that the consultation run by the Government prior to proposing this legislation in 2023 was “one-sided and not fairly carried out”, and therefore also unlawful. The Government had invited only those supportive of its plans to a consultation meeting to discuss the measure – such as policing bodies and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – but did not engage other parties who would be impacted such as community groups and protest groups. Liberty said the ruling showed that the Government “cannot just cherry pick who they consult in order to get the results they want.”

The Government has announced plans to appeal the ruling, and the High Court has suspended the reversal of the measures pending the appeal’s outcome. Meanwhile, Liberty has urged the police to refrain from using these powers, and to halt prosecutions under the law until the appeal is resolved.

Liberty celebrated the judgment as a critical precedent, establishing that the Government cannot act without proper authority. Responding to the judgement, Akiko Hart, Liberty’s director remarked: “We all have the right to speak out on the issues we believe in, and it’s vital that the Government respects that… This judgment sends a clear message that accountability matters, and that those in power must make decisions that respect our rights.”

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