Demonstrating respect for rights? A human rights approach to policing protest - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases

  Arising out of the oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on 21 October 2008 by Lindis Percy (Coordinator with Laila Packer of CAAB), we are grateful for the opportunity to submit further examples and concerns on the issue of "policing and protest".

  In the first submission by CAAB, we made reference to the increasing encroachment of the State in the area of "policing and protests" that we have experienced over many years.

  We draw the attention of the JRCH to the aims and objectives of CAAB which are specifically, to bring public scrutiny and awareness to the accountability and presence of the US Visiting Forces and their Agencies in this country and world wide. Protest is just one of the ways CAAB campaigns to raise these concerns.

  Our experience inevitably involves the US Visiting Forces and their Agencies, when protesting at and around US bases. It is an issue which is politically sensitive. We consider that this is important to note when referring to the undermining of civil liberties concerning such protests. At US bases and where there is a contingent of Ministry of Defence Police Agency (MDPA) officers, it is also important to note that these officers are paid for and under the control of the US authorities (revised Memorandum of Agreement 2008).


Application for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order

  In 2005 North Yorkshire Police and the MDPA made an application to the court for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order against one of the Co-coordinators of CAAB. The implications for the future of peaceful protest were potentially very serious.

  The application was for a 10 mile exclusion area around the American base at Menwith Hill for a period of 10 years. The application was wisely rejected by the District Judge hearing the case. The defendant was eligible for and granted legal aid. However the outcome may have been different if the defendant had had to represent herself. We make the point that not only is the benefit of legal aid for representation often essential, the necessity and importance to challenge the law is prohibitively expensive for the citizen.


  We are concerned about the "creeping" and insidious restrictions imposed by North Yorkshire police on demonstrations organized by CAAB and other groups. Once the precedent was set last year (annual 4 July "Independence FROM America" demonstration and referred to in the first submission), the police have continued in this practice; regardless of careful liaising with the police and representations made by the organizers. For example, we suggested and were willing to provide stewards wearing reflector jackets, put in place warning notices of the demonstration and inform those wanting to participate in the walk round the base of the health and safety issues. These suggestions were firmly rejected. The rational behind these restrictions sometimes appears petty and illogical.

  We were again prevented from walking round the American base at Menwith Hill on 4 October this year. The grass verge, at the lay-by where the demonstration was being held was also out of bounds; it being legally part of the highway. Several demonstrators were aggressively threatened with arrest when trying to retrieve banners from the grass verge and needing to cross the road. The conditions referred to "a procession". Despite discussing this with senior officers no compromise was forthcoming. Again the numbers of police brought in was out of all proportion to the numbers of protestors present; involving police horses, police waiting in vans, police on foot and on bikes and in vehicles.

  We suggest that this way of policing demonstrations (which are very small in comparison with some of the London demonstrations) only increases the growing antagonism between the police and the public. This is not in the interests of either party.


  On 4 July this year (Independence FROM America) we learnt that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters who wanted to come to the demonstration were deterred from coming because they were frightened that they would be "arrested and detained for 42 days". Others said they feel intimidated and harassed by the constant photographing and videoing by NYP and the MDPA.


  These concerns apply to the regular Tuesday evening protest outside the American base at Menwith Hill and therefore technically involving the highway. We recognize that the right to protest and a person's right to go about his/her lawful business is a matter of balance. However we draw the attention of the JCHR to the authority of Hirst and Agu v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire 1987 which is a helpful authority on this issue and includes some historical quotes concerning protest.

  CAAB has many experiences of the balance being tipped by the MDPA in favour of the person whose right it is to go about their lawful business; rather than the police enabling the protest. We believe that this often happens because of the business relationship between the MDPA and the US authorities. The way of policing these protests is often inconsistent despite having meetings and writing letters expressing our concerns. It is a continual struggle. Complaints made against the police are rarely substantiated in our experience despite having a credible concern. The training of police officers and the application of the law concerning the legal right to protest is clearly an issue we believe.


  Over the years, several new laws have been brought in to restrict protest, often by way of a Statutory Instrument. Some of these laws were never meant to be directed at peaceful protest eg, "aggravated trespass" (sections 68 and 69 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). Section 69 is often used against protestors and it appears to be used as a form of bail conditions regardless if officers "reasonably believes that the alleged offence will be is about to be and/or has actually been committed". This law and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (see below) has been used in favour of Military Land Byelaws; many of which we believe are invalid yet are still extant.


  The issue of "public and private space" was raised at the oral hearing. We make a general point about this. Increasingly and because decisions of great importance to us all are not meaningfully debated in Parliament (eg the UK link to the Missile Defense System at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales), we firmly believe that it is important to protest within public and private spaces. The caveat being that the protest must be peaceful. SOCPA criminalizes those peacefully protesting and labels them as "terrorists". Protestors are caught up in an Act entitled "serious organized crime". We respectfully submit that mere trespass is not a "serious organized crime" and protestors are not terrorists.


  In an increasingly dangerous and complex world and where the systems and structures in a democratic society often fail the citizen, it is more important than ever to maintain and nurture the precious right to protest without fear, interference or erosion of this right by the State. It is the duty of the police to enable protest. We owe it to future generations to ensure that our rights are maintained and stewarded.

  We very much welcome the investigation by the JCHR concerning "policing and protest" in this country and for the opportunities to voice our concerns in this forum.

November 2008

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