Wed 19 February 2020

Additional reporting by Alex Varley-Winter

At a session of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, Commander Adrian Usher made a surprise shot across the bows of the growing climate change protest movement.

It was a surprise intervention in a session dedicated to protecting members of Parliament from threats, including a discussion of the murder of MP Jo Cox, the plot against Rosie Cooper MP, and the murder of PC Keith Palmer outside the building two years ago.

Commander Adrian Usher, part of the Metropolitan Police’s parliamentary liaison team (PLAT), suggested that there was need for a major change in legislation and strategy towards Extinction Rebellion and other protests.

Even without a change in the law, this distinction between ‘lawful’ and ‘peaceful’ could be an important change in police strategy.

Event Name Human Rights Committee
Event Location Committee room 4a
Event Type Select committee
Date Wed 24 Apr 2019

Asked by the committee’s chair, Harriet Harman, whether the right balance is being struck between the right to protest and the security of MPs, the commander said: “All of our minds are focused on protest, both the recent events around Brexit and the climate change protest being conducted at the moment. We need to move away from the language of talking about ‘peaceful’ protest to ‘lawful’ protest.”

Extinction Rebellion protesters outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday

“We are absolutely in the business of facilitating lawful protest,” Usher added, as Parliament was still surrounded by noisy, colourful and peaceful climate change activists. But he then stated: “Where protest steps over into being unlawful, whether you consider it peaceful or not, is a moot point.”

1065 Extinction Rebellion protesters have been arrested, and 53 charged in relation to the protests.

He said that the Met was conducting a “sober review of our tactics against recent protests” and suggested a change in the law.

“Legislation associated with policing protest is quite dated,” he told the committee.

Lawful versus Peaceful

Even without a change in the law, this distinction between ‘lawful’ and ‘peaceful’ could be an important shift in policing strategy on protests.

‘Unlawful’ covers any number of criminal and civil breaches. At the end of its first week of demonstrations in London, 1065 Extinction Rebellion protesters had been arrested, and 53 charged in relation to the protests.

Mass arrests are part of the protest movement’s methods, as it hopes to overwhelm police forces and flood the courts to gain attention for the cause.

Today, Extinction Rebellion celebrated the fact that “more than a thousand people have willingly sacrificed their liberty to block with peaceful and joyful non-violent resistance five high-profile locations in Central London”.

Byline Times has asked Extinction Rebellion for its reaction to Commander Usher’s comments and the distinction between ‘lawful’ and ‘peaceful’ protest. A spokeswoman asked for more time to respond so that the group can consider the implications.

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