The Article 11 Trust reflects on a successful Research Fellowship

Over the last 12 months, a research fellow, generously funded by The Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust, has been embedded within the article 11 trust, undertaking ground-breaking and vital research into freedom of assembly and association in Britain. As the fellowship comes to a close, we take a look back at her work.

The first key deliverable of the research fellowship was the Respect or Repression report into the Cop26 protests, which was completed in December, within 44 days of their conclusion, and based on the witness statements of more than 120 activists, Legal Observers and members of the public. Testimony revealed clear breaches of protesters’ human rights, a hostile, intimidating and violent approach to protest, and potentially unlawful use of police powers. This report was promoted by members of the Scottish Parliament, as well as in the press and resulted in an official response from the Scottish Police Inspectorate, although they did not acknowledge the report’s most serious concerns, rejecting our calls for effective and independent scrutiny of the operation.

Subsequently our research fellow completed a second major report detailing the experiences of legal observers, believed to be the first work of its kind. Protecting Protest: Police Treatment of Legal Observers, published in May, and covered by the Byline Times, revealed a number of concerning threats to human rights of legal observers and members of the public exercising their rights to protest. Despite international human rights guidance that:

“It is a good practice for independent national Human Rights institutions and non-governmental organizations to monitor assemblies”,

our findings indicated widespread police use of force, intimidation, harassment and threat of arrest against observers. Participants also noted hostile attitudes towards legal observers and protesters, as well as vast discretion in use of powers in the absence of national guidance on protest policing.

In April, a freedom of information request revealed the most recent Protest Operational Advice document from the National Police Chief’s council (NPCC). Analysis from the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) demonstrates how new guidance for commanders does not go far enough to ensure police fulfil their legal obligations to protect Article 11 Rights, particularly in the rapidly changing legislative context: the PCSC Act being followed closely by the Public Order Bill and the ‘British Bill of Rights’. Both were widely criticized as an attack upon and risk to human rights in Britain, including by the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Following the implementation of the PCSC Act, the NPCC confirmed to our research fellow that no operational advice had been produced with regards to the controversial new powers in the PCSC Act. The Article 11 trust remains concerned as unprecedented new powers to restrict Article 11 rights begin to be operationalised without guidance.

In July, the NPCC responded to a freedom of information request by our research fellow, revealing the ‘Thresholds and Terminologies Matrix’ for ‘Aggravated Activism’ which replaces the controversial ‘Domestic Extremism’ label that was dropped after years of campaigning by the Network for Police Monitoring. This matrix determines how campaigners and activists will be monitored and policed, and shockingly, reveals that lawful and peaceful protest activity, if it has a ‘significant impact on UK businesses’, is automatically classified as ‘high level aggravated activism’ and subject to surveillance and disruption by counter terrorism police.

The research undertaken during this fellowship has been impactful, with it being publicised through accessible social media content, and presented to a range of national and international public bodies including the OSCE-OCDIHR, the special rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the National Police Chiefs Council, the Metropolitan Police, the Independent Advisory Group for Operation Urram and Police Scotland.

We extend our deepest gratitude to the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust for providing this opportunity.