Police acted unlawfully when they demanded that a legal observer who was kettled during a protest hand over her personal details and allow them to film her before she would be permitted to leave, the High Court has ruled.
Campaigners claim that the court’s decision will mean that the police will have to rethink the way they control demonstrations.
The issue was that when kettled by police, protesters and anyone else caught in the trap, is unable to leave of their own accord unless they pass through the police line. In order to leave the area, the police had demanded personal information and the videoing of the person before releasing them, even though they had committed no crime.
In November 2011, Susannah Mengesha was acting as a legal observer at a protest attended by trade unions and other groups when she became trapped by police using kittling tactics. She described the experience as “oppressive, aggressive, and intimidating” and said she should never have been forced to hand personal information over to the police.
Hearing the case, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Wyn Williams ruled that the police tactic to contain protesters was legal as an aid to preventing a breach of the peace, but that the police had acted outside of their jurisdiction in demanding the details and videoing of Ms Mengesha.
Lord Justice Moses said: “The absence of any statutory power to obtain identification in the circumstances in this case establishes conclusively the unlawfulness of the police action in requiring [Ms Mengesha] to be filmed and give her name and address and date of birth before she was released from containment.”
In a previous case, protester John Catt won his fight to have police delete all details they held about him after being under police surveillance for years, even though he had never been charged with, or suspected of a crime. The details were obtained by police as he attended peaceful protests.
Lord Justice Moses went on to rule that the police video recording of individuals at protests and the demanding of personal information was a contravention of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects private and family life.
Val Swain of Police Monitor, which scrutinises the policing of demonstrations said “The issue with kettles has always been that you are containing people who have committed no offence and are not likely to – it is a preventative measure. They can get the names and addresses of everyone in there; often that is everyone who has attended a particular protest.”