Bethany Shiner, a student who was "kettled" in London's Trafalgar Square during last week's demonstrations over education cuts in the UK, has launched a legal challenge to the police practice of detaining demonstrators by blockading them in public roads and squares for hours, exposed to the elements, denied food, toilets and shelter. Ms Shiner's father is a prominent British human rights lawyer, Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers .
He said: "The police are required to have a range of lawful responses to different scenarios and not just resort to the most coercive tactics at the first sign of trouble. The policy on kettling needs to be stuck down."
Ms Shiner said: "I was with a group of young people who behaved at all times perfectly properly and lawfully. We then found ourselves kettled in sub-zero temperatures. I managed to get out only because I went to the rescue of a young man who had a head wound after being hit with a police baton. It is outrageous that the police should resort to such tactics against all protesters, most of whom were acting peacefully."
PIL has written to the Commissioner warning they will argue in court that the police are using kettling in a way that involves multiple breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. These include a breach of Article 5 – the right not to be unlawfully detained; Article 10 – the right to freedom of expression; and Article 11 – the right to freedom of assembly.
It's clear to me that kettling is punitive, not preventative. It isn't intended to cool out a dangerous situation (if that were the case, police would release demonstrators in a small, steady dribble, defusing whatever chaos they're trying to prevent). It's intended to punish protestors for democratically assembling in public, and to frighten off potential supporters who would like to express their displeasure with government, but not at the risk of prolonged arbitrary detention in subzero temperatures. And it has the added benefit (from the police perspective) of gradually increasing the disorder in the kettled, desperate crowd, leading to mediagenic images of chaos that can be used, post facto, to justify this indiscriminate attack on public participation.
The Tories came to office on a platform of "Big Society" — as in, "we'll dismantle the big government, and civic engagement from the public will take up the slack." But when confronted with real public participation — real "Big Society" — the Tories showed that they didn't want the next generation to engage with politics and society, only to meekly take whatever the state hands to them without a whimper of dissent.
(Image: The 'Kettled' Crowd – Student protests – Parliament Square, London 2010, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bobaliciouslondon's photostream)
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