LONDON — The London police violated the human rights of four organizers in banning a March 2021 vigil for a woman who was killed by a police officer, the British High Court ruled on Friday. The police had cited coronavirus restrictions in banning the vigil.
Reclaim These Streets, the group that organized the protest over the killing of the woman, Sarah Everard, celebrated the decision.
“Last March, women’s voices were silenced,” the organization said in a statement. “Today’s judgment conclusively shows that the police were wrong to silence us.”
Judge Mark Warby, in a summary of the ruling, said that the Metropolitan Police Service “failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering.”
He added that the police had overstepped by making “statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement” that coronavirus regulations in force at the time “meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.”
“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil,” he wrote.
The ruling came almost a year to the day after London police cracked down on a group of people who had gathered at a park in South London to remember Ms. Everard in the days after the discovery of her body.
Ms. Everard, 33, was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a Metropolitan Police Service officer, and her case came to encapsulate broader concerns about misogyny in the police force and violence against women and girls.
In response, Reclaim These Streets planned a vigil at Clapham Common on March 13 last year. The police banned the event, citing coronavirus restrictions on gatherings in place at the time and threatening the organizers with fines of £10,000, about $13,000.
A spontaneous group gathered in the park anyway and was allowed to remain for hours, but as dusk fell, the police began to disperse people, sometimes violently. Images of several women being arrested and handcuffed drew outrage and calls for an investigation into the police handling of the situation.
About two weeks later, an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, an independent watchdog group, found that the police had acted appropriately at the informal protest.
The High Court’s ruling on Friday focused instead on the cancellation of the planned vigil, in a case brought by four organizers — Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler.
The judgment found that the London Police had violated their right to freedom of speech and assembly by preventing them from carrying out the vigil.
The judgment comes at a particularly fraught time for London’s Metropolitan Police Service, which is dealing with the resignation of its chief, Cressida Dick, and a broader crisis of trust after allegations of misogyny, racism and bullying within the force.
The decision was announced as Parliament is considering a controversial bill that would make it easier for the police to set limits on demonstrations and punish protesters who refuse to comply.