police square

Five Legal Observers are suing the Metropolitan Police for their arrests, detention and assault, whilst monitoring police violence at protests in London in March and April 2021, against the then Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The Legal Observers, four volunteers and the Legal Observer Coordinator for Black Protest Legal Support, were arrested at ‘Kill the Bill’ protests and fined for allegedly breaching the COVID-19 regulations. After a legal challenge, supported by the human rights organisation Liberty, the Met police dropped the case and acknowledged that legal observers at protests have an important role to play in the independent scrutiny of policing.

The five Legal Observers, now represented by civil liberties lawyers at GT Stewart, have launched a legal claim against the Met police for assault, false imprisonment, and discrimination, as well as infringement of their rights to freedom of expression and association under the Human Rights Act.

They also claim that their arrests formed part of a wider chilling effect on the right to protest, which was exacerbated by institutional racism in policing, the authoritarian COVID regulations, and the Government’s plans to suppress protest rights through new legislation – which has since been enacted.

The claimants have highlighted their brutal and heavy-handed treatment by the police during their arrests, which resulted in three of the Legal Observers being taken to police custody and held for hours, including overnight. One Legal Observer was strip searched and another was asked to remove a religious covering in public view. The majority of the Legal Observers arrested were from racialised communities and women or non-binary, and all of the Legal Observers were subject to intimidatory and humiliating treatment. They were also all kept under investigation for months before the Met dropped any charges against them.

Despite the Met police being forced to drop any fines or prosecutions, and despite accepting the role of legal observers at protests, the police force has refused to accept the arrests were unlawful and is resisting the Legal Observers’ claim.

This legal action comes in the context of the rampant and violent racism, misogyny and discrimination meted out by the Met police and police forces across the UK, throughout history but sharply brought into public view in recent years.

This includes the police murders of Trevor Smith, Sarah Everard, Chris Kaba, Sarah Reed, Dalian Atkinson, Sheku Bayoh and well over a thousand more since 1990. The violating strip search of a Black school girl – Child Q – and subsequent evidence of over 2,000 police strip searches of children from 2018 to 2022, with some as young as eight-years-old and Black children six times more likely to be assaulted. The countless instances of police harassment and violence across the UK every single day, from racist stop and searches, to the use of tasers, to the fact last year more than 1,500 UK police officers were accused of violence against women in a six-month period. Just last week, three women also bravely came forwards to reveal details of invasive strip searches they were subjected to by Greater Manchester Police, including one racialised woman alleging she was raped.

Despite the extensive evidence of police brutality and violence across the UK, which is most sharply experienced by racialised and marginalised people, the British Government has also drastically increased police powers over recent years. Examples include the rights-eroding and wide-reaching COVID Regulations, the 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the more recent 2023 Public Order Act. Their combined effect has had a devastating impact on the right to protest, by enabling more police violence against protesters, the increased criminalisation, punishment and imprisonment of protesters, and by expanding the ways in which the police can enforce racist, classist, sexist, ableist, homophobic and transphobic abuse.

The five Legal Observers firmly believe their arrests cannot be separated from this wider context of police violence and rapidly expanding police powers. A spokesperson for the claimants said:

“We are suing the Met police because our treatment was characteristic of the aggression and impunity police forces across the UK act with every day. By arresting us as legal observers, the Met police made clear their desire to evade any scrutiny in their treatment of ‘Kill the Bill’ protesters.

But we refuse to be intimidated and to be silent about the police violence that we experienced and witnessed when observing several protests in recent years, including Kill the Bill protests in London and Bristol, Palestine solidarity protests in Central London, the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, and at Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

We also hope this challenge will shine a light on how monitoring the police, at protests or in our communities, is a vital tool in holding this toxic and oppressive institution to account. Whether that is through legal observing, local police monitoring groups or bystander intervention, it is crucial that we collectively defend the right to protest against escalating state repression, and urgently create alternatives to policing to protect our communities from its widespread and rampant racism, misogyny and violence.”

Bhaskar Banerjee, the claimants’ solicitor, said:

“Freedom of assembly and speech are foundational rights in a free and democratic society. The expansion of police powers coupled with an unprecedented attack on the right to protest should alarm us all. Ever since the 1930s demonstrations in East London against the British Union of Fascists, independent legal observers have been a fixture of protests in England, fulfilling an important democratic role in monitoring excessive police violence against protesters.

The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that legal observers must not be interfered with when carrying out their roles, even if an assembly is declared unlawful. Nonetheless, in 2021, in a demonstration against the expansion of police powers under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, our clients who were acting as legal observers were unlawfully arrested, detained, threatened with prosecution and even assaulted by officers of the Metropolitan Police Service on two separate occasions. The Metropolitan Police Service maintained at the time that they did not recognise the role of legal observers. This is emblematic of a larger trend within a force that increasingly sees its function as policing dissent.”

Please direct any press enquiries to: b.banerjee@gtstewart.co.uk

The link to the Legal Observers’ CrowdJustice page can be found here: