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Protest exemption set to be removed from England lockdown rules
Expected move is met with fierce criticism from campaigners and human rights groups
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Jamie Grierson and Vikram Dodd
Tue 3 Nov 2020 19.41 GMTFirst published on Tue 3 Nov 2020 12.56 GMT
A Black Lives Matter protest in Westminster, London on 12 July
There have been a series of a high-profile protests since the pandemic erupted in the UK including demonstrations for racial equality led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty Images
Protections for protesters are set to be removed from the coronavirus rules under the second national lockdown, it has emerged, provoking anger from human rights groups and campaigners.
An exemption that permits demonstrations to take place with additional conditions designed to mitigate the spread of the virus is expected to be omitted from fresh regulations being drawn up for the lockdown that will commence from this Thursday.
There have been a series of a high-profile protests since the pandemic erupted in the UK including rallies for racial equality led by the Black Lives Matter movement, racist counter-demonstrations and marches against lockdown measures directed by conspiracy theorists and extremists.
While there will be no explicit ban on protests in the regulations, the removal of the exemption will render organising large-scale lawful protest almost impossible.
The expected move, first revealed by the Times, has been met with fierce criticism from campaigners and human rights groups.
Tyrek Morris, the co-founder of All Black Lives UK, a youth-led campaign group born out of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, said: “With regards to protesting, and protesting through the pandemic, one thing that is clear, we have no support from the government in any way shape or form.”
Morris said protests organised by All Black Lives UK had faced a heavy handed response, despite meeting the criteria set out by the exemption.
“Since the BLM movement arose again, the government has been completely against our protest, against protest full stop, and at every chance possible have tried to stop us. But we’ve always found a way around it. They could stop us protesting, but they can’t stop us fighting for our own rights.”
What you can and can't do in England's new national Covid lockdown
Morris said criticism of the current government was implicit in the All Black Lives UK protests. “We have criticism for the way the government has mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, for how black people are more likely to suffer from this pandemic, we’ve been very vocal about Boris Johnson and his racist tendencies, his previous comments. So this does not come as a shock to me. They don’t want to hear us talk.”
Rosalind Comyn, the policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, the human rights group, said: “We should all be able to stand up for what we believe in. In a healthy democracy protest is one way we do that, and that’s why any measures which stop people expressing dissent are deeply worrying and should be treated with suspicion.
“We have always supported proportionate measures to protect lives, but people must not be criminalised en masse for voicing opposition to government action – even in the context of a pandemic. What’s more, parliament has been sidelined at every turn of this government’s pandemic response, making protest even more important than ever to ensure everyone’s voices are heard.
“The government and police must commit to uphold their duty to facilitate protest so we can stand up to power.”
A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion UK, which has staged climate protests since the pandemic outbreak, said: “Only a government keenly aware of its epic failing would bring in such extreme restrictions to protest.
“These are the actions of a government not willing to listen to its citizens. Studies over the last year have found that protests held outdoors do not lead to spikes in infection rates. This is clearly a political choice at a time when the government needs to be held to account on many fronts.”
When the regulations were refreshed for the new three-tiered system in England, the wording explicitly said a clause about gatherings of more than six was applicable to protests.
The clause in effect permitted individuals to gather in a group of more than six for the purposes of protest as long as the following rules were satisfied:
The gathering has been organised by a business, a charity, a benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body, or a political body.
The organiser of the protest has carried out a risk assessment that meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
The organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.
But while the clause remains in the new lockdown regulations, which were published late on Tuesday, the explicit reference to “protests” has vanished.
Whitehall sources told the Guardian the change was spearheaded by the Covid-19 taskforce and was designed to make the rules simpler.
But a senior police source told the Guardian they feared being “left in the middle” by any dropping of the protections for protests and also would rather there was a clear-cut regulation, rather than something vague and open to interpretation. “It’s going to be difficult,” the source said.
Police are saying they are already under strain from trying to impose existing Covid regulations, with regular crime returning to normal levels, having plunged during the first lockdown.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The right to peaceful protest is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. In these unprecedented circumstances, any gathering risks spreading the disease, leading to more deaths, so it is vital we all play our part in controlling the virus.
“People must follow the rules on meeting with others, which apply to all gatherings and therefore protests too. As they have done throughout the pandemic, the police and local authorities will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules before moving on to enforce the law.”
PUBLISHED: 22:01, 4 November 2020 | UPDATED: 10:38, 5 November 2020
Britons could potentially sue the Government for billions of pounds in compensation for 'falsely imprisoning' the nation with its Stay At Home order at the outbreak of coronavirus in March, a law lecturer has predicted.
Dr Jonathan Morgan, director of law at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, said a class action against the Government was 'unprecedented' - but added that so was the lockdown itself.
In a blog post published yesterday he wrote: 'Could the regulations’ invalidity expose the Government to mass liability—to the entire UK population—for the tort of false imprisonment?
The UK Government carried the message 'Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives' at the beginning of the pandemic in March
'Thus stated, the proposition seems highly unlikely. It would certainly be unprecedented.
Dr Jonathan Morgan, director of law at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge +5
Dr Jonathan Morgan, director of law at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge
'But perhaps that is because a pre-emptive quarantine of the entire population is also unprecedented. It is worth thinking about a hypothetical claim.'
Dr Morgan used the example of Ibrahima Jollah, a Liberian citizen who was ordered to stay at home every night between 11pm and 7am between 2014 and 2017.
Mr Jollah was warned he would be liable to imprisonment or a fine if he failed to comply without reasonable excuse - much like Britons were told to stay home unless they had a reasonable excuse including exercise or shopping.
The Supreme Court found the Secretary of State had no legal power to impose the restrictions and Mr Jollah was awarded £4,000 for the two-and-a-half years he was 'falsely imprisoned'.
If Mr Jollah's case is applied to the UK population the UK Government could be forced to pay £800 - for six months - to each British citizen.
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It could mean a total of £4.8 billion in compensation has to be paid in a nationwide class action.
Dr Morgan added: 'If a test case established that the entire population were entitled to similar payments, the financial consequences for the government would be astonishing.'
A sign which says 'stay at home to save lives' on the A470 southbound on October 26 in Cardiff +5
A sign which says 'stay at home to save lives' on the A470 southbound on October 26 in Cardiff
It comes ahead of tomorrow's second national lockdown, dubbed Lockdown2.
Shops, bars and restaurants have been ordered to shutter for a month from midnight as part of continuing Government efforts to balance suppression of the virus with keeping the economy going.
In his blog post, Dr Morgan referred to former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption's warning ministers have been exceeding their rightful powers by imposing such stringent measures.
In a speech last month Lord Sumption accused ministers of using the police to suppress opposition to their policies, of creating new criminal offences without the legal right to do so, and of grabbing unconstitutional powers by issuing misleading guidance.
A social distancing sign in a shopping arcade on October 28, 2020 in Bridgend, Wales +5
A social distancing sign in a shopping arcade on October 28, 2020 in Bridgend, Wales
Britain's streets were empty as millions of people stayed home unless they needed to buy essential items. Pictured, Oxford Street in London was deserted during the lockdown +5
Britain's streets were empty as millions of people stayed home unless they needed to buy essential items. Pictured, Oxford Street in London was deserted during the lockdown
At the Cambridge Freshfields annual law lecture, he accused the Government of 'tendentiously' presenting guidance as if it was law - such as the two-metre social distancing rule.
Dr Morgan wrote: 'One of Lord Sumption’s major claims was that the Covid-19 regulations that have restricted the free movement of the UK population were, in many instances, ultra vires (meaning outside of) the empowering legislation.'
Lord Sumption opened his speech by blasting the Government for placing 'everybody under a form of house arrest'.
'During the Covid-19 pandemic, the British state has exercised coercive powers over its citizens on a scale never previously attempted,' he said.
'It has taken effective legal control, enforced by the police, over the personal lives of the entire population: where they could go, whom they could meet, what they could do even within their own homes.
'For three months it placed everybody under a form of house arrest, qualified only by their right to do a limited number of things approved by ministers.'
Meanwhile, charities have lashed out at the Government's decision to announce a return to shielding for around two million people just hours before England was dragged into a draconian second lockdown.
Except for exercise and medical appointments, people considered to be at a very high risk of dying if they catch Covid-19 should remain at home and not meet up with others, officials said today.
The Department of Health toughened its guidance just weeks after reassuring people that shielding would not return and 'soft advice' would be used instead.
Announcing the national intervention in a gloomy press conference on Saturday night, Boris Johnson insisted ministers would 'not ask people to shield again in the same way'.
The vulnerable won't have to protect themselves from members of their own household and can go outside to exercise or visit a doctor but the 'stay at home at all times' message is back.
Manchester police shut down a 100-person rave in the early hours of Sunday morning, which was attended by people “from across the North West”.
Greater Manchester Police were called to the Boxing Day party at 4.20am last night, after reports of a large gathering and loud music at empty flats on Hanover Street, near Manchester’s Victoria train station.
The force say they seized music equipment and are continuing their enquiries to hold people accountable for the rule-breaking party.
Two teenage boys - aged 17 and 18 - were each given £1,000 fixed penalty notices, which are normally issued for breaking Covid rules.
Organisers of gatherings that break Covid restrictions can be fined up to £10,000 each.
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A 27-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence and remains in custody. He was also given a £200 notice.
Chief Inspector Colin MacDiarmid, of GMP’s City of Manchester division said the force “will not hesitate to take enforcement action against those found to be responsible for blatant examples of flouting the rules such as this."
He added: “There is no denying the blatant breach of COVID legislation that took place here last night, and enquiries are ongoing to ensure the organisers of this gathering are held accountable for their unacceptable actions.
“It is clear that the people at this gathering weren’t just people from Manchester but from across the North West, and it not only disregards the rules there to protect public health but also undermines the whole spirit of us all needing to be in this together to battle the ongoing risk of coronavirus.”
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Greater Manchester is continuing to see a rise in Covid cases respite being in Tier 3 restrictions since October.
The region recorded 193 cases per 100,000 people for the week ending December 22, a rise of 18 percent compared to the previous week.
Read more: Police footage shows 'flagrant' breaches of Covid rules as London enters Tier 4
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“The majority of people in Manchester have made tremendously difficult sacrifices over the Christmas period and have complied with the rules that we all have to follow,” Chief Inspector MacDiarmid.
Palestinian and Arab Israeli rave attendees make merry at the Nabi Musa mosque in the West Bank on December 26, 2020 (Screenshot/Twitter)
Palestinian and Arab Israeli rave attendees make merry at the Nabi Musa mosque in the West Bank on December 26, 2020 (Screenshot/Twitter)
A Saturday night dance party by Palestinians at a West Bank Muslim holy site featuring alcohol and techno music has elicited condemnation from across the Palestinian political spectrum.
Videos from the Nabi Musa mosque between Jerusalem and Jericho showed a rave held at the scene, featuring young Palestinians and Arab Israelis dancing and drinking.
Prominent Palestinian disc jockey (DJ) Sama Abd al-Hadi led the festivities. Abd al-Hadi, originally from Ramallah, is considered a pioneering artist in the budding Palestinian electronic music scene, as well as one of the first female DJs in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.
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Abd al-Hadi was arrested Sunday night by Palestinian Authority police, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing Palestinian sources.
The festivities appeared to have alcohol and men and women dancing together at the Muslim holy site. Most forms of Islam forbid drinking alcohol, and mixed dancing is also controversial in many parts of conservative Palestinian society.
A number of other Palestinians, apparently angered by what they considered to be the desecration of the site, arrived and confronted them. The partygoers told the newcomers that they had received permission from the Palestinian Authority Tourism Ministry in Ramallah to hold the event.
“Whisky! Alcohol! Women! Tourism Ministry, this isn’t religious morals. In fact, these aren’t morals,” one of the angry demonstrators said as he videotaped the site with his phone.
The Nabi Musa mosque — named after Moses, who many Jews, Christians and Muslims all revere as a prophet of God — is a prominent West Bank pilgrimage site. Each year in spring, Palestinian Muslims travel by foot to the mosque, which is situated between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Most of the revelers on Saturday night were either Arab Israelis or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and the matter is currently being processed by the Israel Police. A spokesperson for the police’s West Bank Division could not be reached for comment.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has assembled an investigative committee to look into the incident, PA government spokesperson Ibrahim Milhem said.
“I feel disgust and rage about what happened at the Nabi Musa mosque… I do not know yet who is responsible for this sin, but whoever is will receive a punishment to fit the atrocity of what was committed. A mosque is a house of God; its sanctity is the sanctity of religion itself,” said Mahmoud al-Habbash, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisor on religious affairs.
Nabi Musa lies largely in Area C, meaning that the Oslo Accords designates the area as under full Israeli security and civil control. Israeli security forces arrived at the scene during the night when the confrontation occurred.
“There were Israeli soldiers there, but the incident is being dealt with by the Israel Police and Palestinian institutions,” a spokesperson for the Israeli army said, without elaborating.
In the aftermath of the incident, Palestinian Authority ministries have engaged in a blame game in an attempt to avoid the wrath of the public from the perceived desecration of the holy site. The Tourism Ministry has sought to blame the Religious Affairs Ministry, which has denied any knowledge of plans to hold a rave at the site.
“I was surprised to hear the news that people had entered the mosque… the Religious Affairs Ministry was never asked for permission or consultation, nor did it ever issue a permit to hold a party in the mosque,” Religious Affairs Deputy Minister Hussam Abu al-Rabb told Ajyal Radio on Sunday.
The Nabi Musa mosque, in the Judean Desert, south of Jerusalem, on January 29, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
On Sunday afternoon, several dozen Palestinians went to the site to pray. Videos posted on social gathered showed the worshippers hurling the remnants of last night’s party from the walls of the sanctuary before setting them ablaze.
Officials from Hamas, an Iran-backed terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and opposes the PA, quickly took advantage of the anger over the rave in the West Bank holy site to criticize their political rivals for allegedly allowing the event to take place. Palestinian Authority police, however, are rarely permitted by Israel to enforce their laws in Area C.
“We condemn the fact that this was done with the formal approval and under the protection of Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, who called the rave “a despicable violation of the house of God.”
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