Shami Chakrabarti warns police over Extinction Rebellion prosecutions
Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, has accused police of stepping out of line by announcing plans to push for the prosecution of more than 1,100 Extinction Rebellion protesters.
Deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said on Friday that the Metropolitan police had a team of 30 officers preparing cases against those arrested during the protests over Easter, and that he anticipated putting “all of those [cases] to the Crown Prosecution Service for decisions”.
Chakrabarti said: “The deputy assistant commissioner would be wise to remember his constitutional role, which is not that of prosecutor, judge or commentator.
“The police perform a vital role in preserving the law and keeping the peace, which includes safeguarding the rights of peaceful protesters. The next Labour government will review the statute book to ensure that the right to peaceful protest is robustly protected.”
During the protests last month, Extinction Rebellion’s tactics included causing maximum disruption with roadblocks at Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch held by hundreds of activists willing to get arrested for blocking the streets.
Others glued themselves to trains and buildings in a campaign of civil disobedience aimed at raising awareness of the climate and biodiversity crisis that scientists say will have disastrous implications for life on Earth.
They managed to block the four key locations for almost a week before police officers began opening roads again. The Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott was among the 1,130 people arrested.
So far, more than 70 activists have been charged over the demonstrations, which police say cost £7.5m and forced them to deploy 10,000 officers on the streets of London.
Extinction Rebellion: 10 days of protests draw to an end – video
Scotland Yard’s hardline approach comes after Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, was questioned by representatives on the London assembly’s police and crime committee last week over why her force was not able to clear the streets more quickly.
She said the Met had been caught off guard by the scale and tactics of the protest. Protesters’ passivity and non-violence had meant commanders could not send in riot police to clear the streets by force, she said.
An Extinction Rebellion spokesman said that any hardline approach by police could play into the hands of the campaign, which seeks to highlight the sacrifices its activists are willing to make for their cause in order to inspire others.
“We have seen doctors, we have seen XR youth – kids with their parents’ permission – doing civil disobedience,” Ronan McNern said.
“If the Met plan is to take those people and put them through the court system, in a way it serves the purpose of Extinction Rebellion. More people will know who these people are protesting. Either way, we win.
What is Extinction Rebellion?
Extinction Rebellion is an international protest group that uses non-violent civil disobedience to campaign on environmental issues.
More than 1,000 activists were arrested in April 2019 after protesters occupied four sites across London, as well as blocking roads, disrupting a train line and conducting a protest at Heathrow. Other demonstrations have included a semi-naked protest inside the House of Commons.
The group says climate breakdown threatens all life on Earth, and so it is rebelling against politicians who ‘have failed us’, to provoke radical change that will stave off a climate emergency.
“If the Met decide to do this it’s them who are going to be adding to legal time, and that’s their decision. On the one hand, they seem to be arguing we are wasting lots of police time. But if they are going to put more costs on the legal system, then that’s their choice.”
Further environmental protests, along with US president Donald Trump’s visit in June and demonstrations over the ongoing Brexit debate, are likely to stretch police resources over the summer.
Taylor said the Met was equipped to deal with any upcoming actions and said officers from other forces would be called into action if needed.
He said Scotland Yard was in discussions with the Home Office to review the current public order legislation – amid fears Extinction Rebellion’s tactics could be adopted by other groups – and called for a stronger punishment of those who break the law.