George Thomas and Cecily White successfully defend the Metropolitan Police in Haringey Council occupation case
31st October 2014
On Friday 31st October the High Court gave judgment in Laporte & Christian v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  EWHC 3574 (QB), in which George Thomas and Cecily White represented the Metropolitan Police. Turner J clarified the circumstances in which the police can go to the assistance of a body conducting a public meeting in order to prevent disorderly conduct from disrupting the meeting. It is represents an interesting application of the principles in relation to a breach of the peace, as set out in R (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire  2 AC 105, albeit the same claimant was this time unsuccessful.
The claimants were protestors against cuts in local services who had entered Haringey Civic Centre on 24th February 2011 in order to attend a public meeting at which cuts to the local authority’s budget were to be debated. Following occupation of the council chamber by other protestors, the councillors withdrew to a private area of the building. The claimants, together with about 10 other protestors, gained entry to the private area where they continued their protest. Metropolitan Police officers removed the protestors by force, relying on their powers to prevent a breach of the peace. During this process, the claimants were arrested for assaulting police officers in the execution of their duty, but were later acquitted upon it being held by a District Judge that the prosecution had failed to establish that a breach of the peace was occurring or imminent.
The claimants brought claims for false imprisonment, assault, malicious prosecution and breach of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly under Articles 10 and 11 ECHR, claiming the police had no lawful basis for physically escorting them from the building.
Mr Justice Turner dismissed all the claims. His central findings include:
The police officers were acting in the execution of their duty, and on behalf of Haringey Council, in using necessary and proportionate force to remove the claimants, principally because those who conduct public meetings (such as the Council) have a common law power to exclude attendees whose disorderly conduct disrupts or threatens to disrupt the business of the meeting;
That power has been preserved by s. 100(A) of the Local Government Act 1972 Act and is not limited either to the actual room where the meeting is being held, or to those persons actually guilty of disorderly conduct but can be exercised pre-emptively, to exclude protesters from the whole or part of a building;
It was not necessary for there to be a breach of the peace to justify laying hands on a trespasser, which the protesters had become once the Council lawfully exercised its power to exclude them from the building;
Nor was it necessary for an officer to have specifically in mind the common law power to suppress or prevent disorderly conduct in order to exercise that power lawfully;
Turner J was satisfied that there had, in addition, been a breach of the peace at the council chamber, and that a further breach of the peace was occurring when officers arrived in the private area;
In practice, a court will be more likely to sanction police intervention in the context of ongoing disorder where a breach of the peace has already broken out, as compared to the situation in the House of Lords case of Laporte where no such breach had yet taken place;
The claimants were found to be participating in a breach of the peace and thus there was nothing unlawful, per se, in the use of force against them both for the purpose of allowing the meeting to go ahead without disruption and to bring to an end the breach of the peace (or the possibility of an occurrence or recurrence thereof);
Both claimants had acted in a way that gave the arresting officers reasonable grounds to suspect that the claimants had assaulted officers in the execution of their duty;
Neither claimant had been subjected to unreasonable force in the course of the arrests;
The protestors’ rights of freedom of expression had not been violated: it was necessary in a democratic society to protect the machinery of local government from being brought to a standstill by serious and deliberately disruptive conduct.
The judgment follows a three week trial in the summer, at which twenty-five witnesses gave evidence and video footage and photographs disclosed by protestors was viewed.
Back to index