News Release – for immediate release
The Network for Police Monitoring, a network of experienced protester support organisations , today slammed the decision of the TUC and Liberty to work alongside the Metropolitan police in deploying legal observers on the TUC march to be held on the 26th of this month.
Legal observers have traditionally been fiercely independent of the police, a position which is seen as essential in maintaining the trust and co-operation of protesters and protest groups. Campaigners say the actions of Liberty and the TUC will undermine this position and have long term implications for the effectiveness with which police behaviour can be monitored and challenged through the complaint system and the courts.
“The decision by Liberty to work so closely in partnership with the police shows a complete lack of understanding of the need to monitor the police from an independent perspective,” said Val Swain. “It is a misguided decision which could have serious consequences for those groups who have been working for years to monitor the policing of protest.
“The ability to monitor policing effectively depends on having some distance from the police, and on having the trust of protesters. All of this is inevitably undermined if legal observers form part of the overall policing operation.”
Legal observers have operated at many major demonstrations over the last few decades, including the G20 protests, environmental protests and student demonstrations. They are trained and co-ordinated by a number of legal support groups, including the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group (LDMG), the Green and Black Cross, and the Network for Police Monitoring .
The TUC appear to have made a u-turn on their decision to have legal observers at all. In the beginning of the year they told the Network for Police Monitoring that they would not be deploying legal observers as it ‘gave the wrong impression’.
“This appears to be the result of an initiative put forward by the Metropolitan police,” said Val Swain “It is hard not to see it as a cynical and manipulative ploy to undermine the role of legal observers that operate independently of the police and have been crucial in highlighting serious police misconduct in the most recent demonstrations. I would urge Liberty to support the work of independent legal observers, and urgently reassess their role in this demonstration.”
Andy Meinke from LDMG said, “We are truly independent and there to support the rights of protesters, much in the way Liberty did when it was founded in the 1930’s. Liberty says they are honoured to accept the Metropolitan Police invitation to provide ‘independent monitoring’. Sadly, Liberty seems to have lost its way.”
Notes to editors
- The Network for Police Monitoring is an umbrella organisation including Newham Monitoring Project, Climate Camp legal team, FITwatch, Legal Defence and Monitoring Group (LDMG), Gaza Demonstrators Support Group, Aldermaston Women’s Group and CAMPACC.
- Asst Comm Lynne Owens said in evidence to the JCHR yesterday, “We have been, alongside the TUC, engaging with Liberty who are working with us on the planning process. A number of our Liberty colleagues will have access to the intelligence we have in the run up to event, they will be involved in planning of the event with us and based in our specialist operations room, our control room for the event, and they will also have observers working alongside us on the streets, watching how our strategic intentions are put into practice and providing us with advice and guidance post the event.”
- As well as affecting the flow of information between protester and observer, Liberty’s actions may effectively place future legal observers at risk. Legal observers often operate in tense or confrontational situations, when having the trust of protesters is crucial to their safety as well as their ability to work.
- The role of legal observers is to ensure protesters are aware of their rights, to gather data on incidents, and to monitor the use of police public order strategies, such as the controversial tactic of kettling or the use of stop and search powers. Legal observers gather witness statements and document police behaviour.
- The role of legal observers has been crucial in providing evidence for criminal and civil trials, and in raising awareness of misuses and abuses of police power, such as the unlawful stop and search operation at Kingsnorth, and the disproportionate kettling operations at G20 and the student demonstrations.
- Liberty deployed legal observers in Wapping in the late 1980’s, but have very limited experience of providing legal observers at demonstrations since that date. Unlike other legal support groups, which tend to work in co-operation, Liberty has made no contact with any legal support group.
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