Judges have ruled that the Metropolitan Police acted unlawfully by kettling clmate campaigners at a protest near a G20 meeting two years ago.
The news is a victory for campaigners who argue that kettling - the prolonged containment of protesters within designated, usually small areas - is an abuse of rights to protest and to freedom of movement.
At the G20 protest over 4,000 supporters of the Camp for Climate Action occupied a stretch of Bishopsgate outside the European Climate Exchange. At around 7.00pm, the police kettled the camp, and in the early hours of the morning violently evicted the protesters.
Footage of the police's violent eviction went viral on the internet with clips on YouTube being viewed 500,000 times.
The police had also kettled protesters earlier in the day outside the Bank of England, when a relatively relaxed and good-natured atmosphere became increasingly confrontational as kettled campaigners were surrounded by riot police.
It was after these two incidents that the practice of kettling became increasingly controversial and much debated in the media.
Today (14 April), the judges declared that “The police may only take such preventive action as a last resort catering for situations about to descend into violence".
The court ruled, “The claimants succeed in establishing that (a) the containment of the Climate Camp, and (b) the pushing operation to move the crowd 30 metres to the north at the southern end of the Climate Camp were not lawful police operations".
The ruling was described as a "brilliant result" by Frances Wright of the Camp for Climate Action legal team. She said it should "act as some restraint on the macho policing of protest".
Josh Moos, one of three protesters who brought the judicial review against the police, said, “Their behaviour was completely disproportionate. Yet again the police have been shown to be acting illegally in relation to climate change protesters.”
In court, the police said the kettling was designed to prevent people from the protest at the Bank of England joining the climate campers and causing a breach of the peace. The protestors stated that the police’s approach was unnecessary and unlawful and that inadequate thought had been given to alternative options.
Climate Camp previously won a judicial review against illegal police behaviour in 2008.
Frances Wright said, “Effective protest, like the climate movement, seems to acquire disproportionate policing, as we can see by the recent arrests of UK Uncut activists at Fortnum & Mason".
She added, "I urge other protest groups, like the students, who have also face political policing, to monitor the police and challenge them through the courts. Perhaps then we will see the right to protest being properly upheld.”
The climate campers challenged the evening kettling, the use of force and the subsequent dispersal of the protest under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1996. They were represented in the judicial review proceedings in the High Court by Mike Fordham QC from Blackstone's chambers and John Halford from Bindmans solicitors.
“Kettling and the police aggression that accompanies it has become a common feature of demonstrations," said Halford, "It seems that the larger and more unconventional the protest, the readier the police are to trample on the protestors involved and their rights to express themselves".
He added, "To date, there have been few signs of a change in police attitudes and tactics since G20. This judgment could not give a clearer signal that must happen immediately.”
The Metropolitan Police have said that they will appeal against the judgment.