First let me say that Hampshire Constabulary have been exemplary, and a lesson to other forces in the sense of proportion and patience that it has shown.
Policing in the pandemic was never going to be easy. Frankly, some of the regulations are unenforceable, and others require enormous sensitivity. Not all forces have covered themselves with glory. From the start of the first lockdown Derbyshire Police showed their crass stupidity by poisoning an azure lake, in order to deter visitors.
There have been plenty of other instances where officers have overstepped the mark, well beyond what is acceptable in a democratic society under the rule of law.
I have previously expressed my concern about the way in which government guidance has been confused with regulation when police officers have issued instructions to citizens. Guidance is no more than the opinion of ministers and it is not enforceable. Only the law are police officers charged with enforcing. I make no bones about it: a ‘police state’ is where officers enforce the opinions of ministers, It is the very opposite of the rule of law.
I have been worried by the lack of media coverage afforded to the way that a number of protesters have been unnecessarily roughly treated on a number of occasions. Saturday’s policing of the vigil on Clapham Common however, has achieved the notoriety and opprobrium that it deserves. The scenes were quite shocking and the result of a woeful want of judgement by those in command.
The attempt to clear the vigil was made because some of the women were about to make speeches.
Good grief! Not that! Surely, it had to be prevented at all costs?
I have, since the very beginning of the first lockdown been staggered by the lack of protest at the abrogation of our civil liberties including right of assembly and freedom of expression. Perhaps the disgraceful scenes in Clapham will be the spark to ignite a rather more robust response in defence of our liberties.
We have a common law right to protest and in addition there are legislative provisions that enhance that right which the police are under a duty to facilitate.
It is far from clear as to the extent that the Health Protection Restrictions made last year using powers enabled by Public Health Act 1984, have lawfully removed our right to public protest. It certainly hasn’t yet been tested in the courts. So, I do hope that crowd funding will prompt and enable those facing £10,000 fixed penalty notices to challenge them there.
There are even signs that politicians in our hitherto supine Parliament, are waking up to the monster that we have created.