There was cross-party outrage from London Mayoral candidates at the Metropolitan Police’s use of anti-terrorist legislation against protesters picketing last week’s arms fair in London’s Docklands, as civil rights group Liberty launched a legal challenge.
Demonstrators were given permission for a full High Court hearing into the legality of the police’s use of anti-terrorist legislation to arrest and stop and search protesters. Liberty challenged the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, together with Home Secretary David Blunkett, on behalf of a student from Sheffield who was stopped by police outside the Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition in London under the Terrorism Act 2000.
“The Home Secretary gave a clear undertaking to the House of Commons that ‘section 44’ notices would only be used where there is good reason to suspect terrorist activity,” said Liberty solicitor Mona Arshi. “The people in Docklands are legitimate demonstrators and it is quite shocking they are being treated as potential terrorists. We will do everything in our power to protect the right of every citizen to peacefully protest.” Section 44 allows assistant chief constables (or the commander in the case of the Met) to authorise extended stop and search where they “consider it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism”. Mr Justice Maurice Kay said the application for judicial review from Liberty raised a serious issue which should be heard as soon as possible after 1 October.
The Liberty challenge was supported by Steven Norris, Conservative candidate for London Mayor, who said it was “a wholly inappropriate way for the Government and police to react”, and Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat candidate, as well as the present incumbent Ken Livingstone, who said that he would be asking the Metropolitan Police Service for an explanation of what powers were used and for what purpose on this occasion.