Five ‘legal observers’ have raised over £10,000 to help fund a claim against the Metropolitan (Met) police over the abuse they say they faced at the hands of Met police officers.
The five legal observers, who are part of Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS), a network that offers a range of help to protestors, including free legal advice, say that they were illegally detained and assaulted by officers following their arrest.
🎉🎉WE DID IT!!! Thanks to all your generosity & support, we have reached our goal!
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✊🏾Together we are stronger!
⚖️ The Legal Observers’ lawyers can now issue their claim against the Met police
👀 Stay peeled for updates! pic.twitter.com/rXKhgead9t
— Black Protest Legal Support UK (@blkprotestlegal) August 15, 2023
The legal observers were arrested at demonstrations in London in March and April 2021, known as ‘Kill the Bill’ protests, opposing the then Police Bill, which has since passed and is now in legislation as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Other protests also took place across the country.
The observers called their treatment an example of aggressive policing powers in the UK. The five stated: “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’ protestors.”
What is a legal observer?
Legal observers are trained volunteers who support the legal rights of activists. They provide basic legal guidance and are independent witnesses of police behaviour at protests. Legal observers can be identified by their orange hi-vis vests bearing the words ‘Legal Observer’.
Legal observers are independent from the protest and do not participate as activists. They can help support people protesting by:
- Distributing ‘bust’ cards
- Briefing activists about their rights
- Keeping notes about the actions of the police on protests, which may be later used to challenge the police on their behaviour
- Monitoring arrests, including collecting details of witnesses and helping to connect the arrestee with support in the police station.
Observers fines were retracted following an initial legal challenge
The legal observers were issued with Covid-19 fines, however, following an initial legal challenge by Liberty, the human rights organisation, the police withdrew the fines.
BPLS stated: “Most of the legal observers arrested were racialised and women or non-binary. Three of the five were held in police custody for hours, including overnight. One legal observer was even strip searched and another was asked to remove a religious covering in public view.”
The legal observers represented have raised over £10,000 via a crowdfunder to fund the legal claim against the Met police, for assault, false imprisonment and discrimination.
The observers believe that their case is just one example of misuse of policing powers in the UK. BPLS stated: “This action is but one challenge against the rampant, systemic violence inherent to policing, and recent attacks on the right to protest in the UK. The five legal observers believe their arrests cannot be separated from this wider context of oppression, violence and expanding police powers.”