Thursday, May 13, 2021
HomeMPs call for law change to support protest rights after Sarah Everard...

MPs call for law change to support protest rights after Sarah Everard vigil ‘mess’

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Parliament’s joint committee on human rights said that the ability to protest should be put on the same footing as the right to religious assembly or to picket.

The committee added that this should be achieved through amendments to the law “to make it clear that protest is permitted if conducted in a manner that reduces public health risks to an acceptable level”.

It follows the controversy over last Saturday’s vigil which passed off peacefully for several hours before scuffles broke out when police decided that the large gathering was an unjustified breach of coronavirus restrictions.

A legal challenge hoping to ensure an organised vigil was permitted had earlier failed after the High Court ruled that it was up to the police to balance the human right to protest against the public health considerations of enforcing the Covid law prohibition on mass gatherings.

Today, the parliamentarians said the problem had arisen because protest is not one of the exceptions to the coronavirus ban.

The committee said that the public had been left “unsure of their rights and at risk of arbitrary or discriminatory decision-making”, while police have faced the challenge of enforcing “ambiguous or confusing law”.

Calling for legislation to clarify the situation, Harriet Harman, the committee chairwoman, said: “The right to protest is important and should be allowed, like other current exemptions, if it is carried out in a safe way.

“When people have to go to court to establish whether their actions are lawful or criminal, as has happened most recently in the Reclaim These Streets Clapham vigil, it’s clear that the law is in a mess.

“The events of last weekend show how the lack of clarity and level of uncertainty in the law is unacceptable and must be remedied as a matter of urgency.”

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