R (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire
Reference:  UKHL 55;  2 WLR 46;  2 All ER 529; (2007) HRLR 13 : (2007) UKHRR 400; The Times, 14 December 2006
Court: House of Lords
Judge: Lords Bingham, Rodger, Carswell, Brown & Mance
Date of judgment: 13 Dec 2006
Summary: Demonstrations - Apprehended breach of the peace - Police - Freedom of expression - Article 10 - Freedom of assembly- Article 11
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Instructing Solicitors: Bindman & Partners for L; Gloucestershire Constabulary Legal Services for the Chief Constable
Officers from seven police forces, acting under the direction of the Gloucestershire constabulary, stopped 3 coaches from London carrying 120 anti-Iraq war protesters in March 2003. The protesters had been planning to join thousands of people in a demonstration against the war at RAF Fairford, from which part of the US-led attack on Iraq had been launched two days before. At least some of the protesters, including L, had purely peaceful intentions, but some items suggestive of violent intent were discovered by the Police on the coaches. The coaches were returned to London under police escort, without any opportunity for all 3 of the passengers (who were designated speakers) to disembark.
L sought judicial review of the actions of the Chief Constable in (1) preventing her from attending the protest and (2) forcibly returning her to London. The Divisional Court rejected her first complaint but upheld her second. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. Both parties appealed.
Whether the Chief Constable’s actions, which it was conceded interfered with L’s Convention rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for a legitimate purpose, were (1) prescribed by law and (2) necessary in a democratic society.
Allowing L’s appeal and disallowing the Chief Constable’s cross-appeal:
(1) The Chief Constable’s actions were not prescribed by law. They were not confined to the closely defined powers and duties created by Parliament, which were not supplemented by a general power to do whatever was reasonable in the circumstances. Neither was there a power to take action short of arrest to prevent a breach of the peace which is not sufficiently imminent to justify arrest. The duty to prevent breaches of the peace must be kept within proper bounds.
(2) The Chief Constable’s actions were disproportionate because they were premature and indiscriminate. It was wholly disproportionate to restrict L’s exercise of her rights under articles 10 and 11 because she was in the company of others some of whom might, at some time in the future, breach the peace.
The Chief Constable needed to justify his prima facie interference with L’s fundamental Convention rights as being no more than was necessary in the circumstances, and there was simply no justification for preventing L and her peaceful colleagues from attending the protest and detaining them aboard the coach. The House accepted that he believed that he was acting reasonably in an attempt to prevent a breach of the peace. However, they rejected the contention that the power to prevent such extended to situations where a breach was not imminent, and criticised the police for treating the coaches as if they were full of anarchists when their passengers were clearly mixed. The troublemakers aboard the coaches could and should have been arrested if and when they committed, or were about to commit, a breach of the peace.