Two High Court judges in London have ruled against the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in a case taken by a group of women over a cancelled vigil for Sarah Everard, who was murdered in London last year.
The women, who had founded the Reclaim These Streets (RTS) movement, had alleged that their plans to hold a vigil were unlawfully thwarted by police.
They had further argued that the police actions had infringed their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Sarah Everard’s body was found on 10 March. A serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, was later convicted of her murder.
The RTS group had planned to hold a vigil on Clapham Common on 13 March, in memory of Sarah Everard, but they had abandoned the plan after being advised by police that the gathering was “unlawful”, under COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings. An unofficial gathering did take place, however.
Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate said that the MPS had made statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.
The judges ruled that those statements had interfered with the claimants’ rights, because each had had a “chilling effect”, and had made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.
“None of the MPS decisions was in accordance with the law; the evidence showed that the MPS failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty,” they added.