European Courts finally rule police kettling tactic lawful
The police tactic of corralling large numbers of people into a confined space and detaining them for long periods in order to maintain public order has been ruled lawful by the European Court of Human Rights in a landmark judgement.
The case was brought before the European courts by three people who were kettled for over seven hours during the 2001 Mayday anti-capitalist protests in central London. More than 1,500 people were surrounded by police and forcibly detained in Oxford Circus without access to food, water or toilet facilities because senior officers feared a ‘beach of the peace’ even though there had been no major outbreaks of violence throughout the day.
Many people trapped in the cordon were not part of the protest and many more suffered injuries as a result of police violence during their prolonged detention. Despite this the court in Strasbourg found that “the people within the cordon had not been deprived of their liberty within the meaning of the (Human Rights) Convention”.
The ten year battle against the Mayday detention finally ended in March after the judges returned a majority verdict of 14-3 in favour of the police, concluding that kettling did not amount to an infringement of article 5 of the Convention of Human Rights – the right to liberty. This final ruling re-enforces an earlier House of Lords judgement that stated kettling as a crowd control measure was “necessary, proportionate and lawful”.
David Pannick QC, who represented the police, argued the convention’s guarantee of liberty – except for individuals lawfully held in criminal matters – was not meant to concern “mere restrictions of movement”.
In its summing up the court stated: “The police had imposed the cordon to isolate and contain a large crowd in dangerous and volatile conditions. This had been the least intrusive and most effective means to protect the public from violence”.
Adding: “Even by 2001, advances in communications technology had made it possible to mobilise protesters rapidly and covertly on a hitherto unknown scale. Article 5 did not have to be construed in such a way as to make it impracticable for the police to fulfil their duties of maintaining order and protecting the public.”
What this means for the future of political protest is incredibly worrying especially as the 2012 Olympics approaches. Kettling will now be re-imposed during demonstrations as a first means of crowd control, limiting peoples freedom of movement and, paradoxically, the right to leave a demonstration. The purpose of protest will now be wholly managed by the police as a public order exercise rather than as right to express dissent. For anarchists it is equally troubling as it allows for greater state repression of those identified as anarchists who will be detained simply for their political beliefs under the pretext of maintaining public order.