UK court: Full ban on Extinction Rebellion protests unlawful

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s High Court ruled Wednesday it was unlawful for London’s Metropolitan Police to impose a blanket ban on protests by the climate activism group Extinction Rebellion.

Two senior judges decided that the ban, made under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, was unlawful because the act doesn’t cover “separate assemblies.” But judges say the act could be used to control future protests that are deliberately designed to “take police resources to a breaking point.”

Climate change activists protested at sites around central London for 10 days in October, demanding more urgent action to counter global warming. Activists shut down bridges and targeted Parliament, London City Airport and government offices. More than 1,800 people were arrested.

“This judgment is a vindication of those who have sought to defend our crucial right to protest,” activist George Monbiot said. “Non-violent civil disobedience is essential to democratic politics … The attempt by the Metropolitan Police to shut down civil protest was a direct assault on democracy.”

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The law firm Bindmans, which represented the activists, say police now face claims for false imprisonment for those arrested after the ban was imposed. But in a statement after the decision, the Met police robustly defended its actions and put the cost of dealing with the protests at 24 million pounds ($30.9 million) as of Oct. 30.

“I want to be clear. We would not and cannot ban protest,” Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said. “The condition at the center of this ruling was specific to this particular protest, in the particular circumstances at the time.”

Ephgrave cited the disruption to public transport, the obstruction of the roads and encampments in various parts of the British capital, together with efforts by the activists to attach themselves to structures using glue or locks.

“This case highlights that policing demonstrations like these, within the existing legal framework, can be challenging,” he said. “We will carefully consider today’s ruling.”

Founded in Britain last year, Extinction Rebellion has chapters in some 50 countries and wants to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025.

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