Legal Observer Research Project
We are currently embarking on a ground-breaking research project into the treatment of Independent Legal Observers by police. We want to know police awareness of and attitudes towards LOs at protests, the role LOs play in protecting the Article 11 rights of protestors, and whether there are any disparities in police treatment based on class, race and gender, or the nature of the protest or assembly that is being policed.
We will use this research, combined with information from police forces and organisations across the UK, to build an understanding of current challenges to Article 11 Rights in the UK.
From ‘Domestic Extremist’ to ‘Aggravated Activist’…
After nearly a decade of campaigning by Netpol, in 2019 the Home Office and other government departments agreed to stop using the term ‘domestic extremist’. In 2021 a HMICFRS report introduced the term ‘Aggravated Activist’, which serves much the same function as the previous label: to justify intelligence gathering on campaigners.
We are undertaking research to find out what this new label means, who is at risk of being labelled an aggravated activist and the potential impact of this label on people’s human rights to freedom of assembly and association in the UK.
As the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill continues to pass through the final stages of parliament and becomes an Act- we will continue to monitor and produce accessible explainers on what the amendments mean, and the potential (and actual) human rights impacts of this bill.
We will continue to, first, respond to emerging threats to Article 11 Rights. Second, collate testimony from frontline groups about their experiences of participating in and organising protests, looking for patterns in instances of oppressive policing. Third, contrast this testimony with positive ways of protecting human rights that, for example, Netpol’s Charter offers, Finally, we will continue to support grassroots campaigners and legal challenges against the bill on human rights grounds.
COP26 report: Respect or Repression. What next?
Our December 2021 report into the ‘human rights-based’ policing of COP26 revealed a number of human rights concerns, and was received overwhelmingly positively. A number of news outlets covered the findings, including The Guardian, The Ferret and the Morning Star.
We are currently preparing to provide hard copies to key stakeholders, which includes Police Scotland and oversight bodies such as the COP26 policing Independent Advisory Group (IAG), Scottish Police Authority as well as grassroots legal support and climate activist groups such as SCALP, who’s tireless work made the report possible.
In January, staff from the Article 11 Trust and Netpol recently met with COP26 Coalition staff and the chair of Police Scotland’s IAG, John Scott QC, to discuss our findings and the experiences of campaigners on the ground. Our research will be included as primary material in the IAG’s report, and in academic research being undertaken at the University of St Andrews.
MSP Maggie Chapman has publicly expressed concern at our findings, and we hope to continue to stimulate awareness and discussion around the concerns raised by the report, particularly our urgent requirement for Police Scotland to adopt a rigorous human rights framework for public order policing. One such example is offered by Netpol’s 2020 ‘Charter for freedom of assembly rights’, backed by a growing number of human rights and campaigning organisations.
We reiterate that “It is not enough to adopt the language of human-rights without tools to practically implement this approach”, and we will continue to encourage Police Scotland and its professional oversight bodies to adopt such tools urgently, in advance of the SPA’s formal COP26 review in March.