UK

Court of Appeal ignores Strasbourg ruling on police detention

  • 22 January 2014
  • From the section UK
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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge kiss at their wedding
Image caption The royal kiss: Claimants detained until celebrations ended

The Court of Appeal has backed the police over "pre-emptive" arrests during the 2011 Royal Wedding - and refused to follow a European Court ruling on the issue.

Judges said the Metropolitan Police had the power to hold people on the day of the marriage

In a highly unusual move, the court exercised a rarely-used power to rule that it did not need to adopt a decision in a similar case at the European Court of Human Rights.

The complainants said that the Strasbourg court's judgement meant the Met had acted unlawfully.

Last year, the High Court rejected a challenge by 20 people who claimed they were unlawfully arrested during the Royal Wedding. Four of them fought on to the Court of Appeal, saying that the Metropolitan Police had deprived them of their liberty under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Brian Hicks, 44, was arrested as he was heading to a "Not the Royal Wedding" demonstration in central London.

Police told him that he was being held for breach of the peace - and he overheard one of them saying that he would be released "when the celebrations finish."

The three other complainants say they were all arrested on similar pre-emptive grounds and only released after the the royal couple had kissed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

German detention case

Their lawyers argued that a recent European Court of European Rights judgement showed that the Metropolitan Police had acted unlawfully in running a pre-emptive operation.

In that 2013 case, German police had held a man called Henrik Ostendorf on suspicion that he was preparing to be involved in football hooliganism. Mr Ostendorf said that his detention without charge infringed his rights because the police had no proof he was involved in violence.

But rejecting the comparison, the three Court of Appeal judges said that they would exercise their powers to ignore the Strasbourg court.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay said in the judgement that the court had a duty to "take into account" Strasbourg case law - but that did not mean it had to follow it in every case.

"It is the duty of the national courts to enforce domestically enacted [European] Convention rights," said the judge.

"Where there are 'mixed messages' in the existing Strasbourg case law, a real judicial choice will have to be made about the scope and application of the relevant provision of the Convention."

The judge added that if the European Court's highest chamber gave a clear and consistent ruling on a topic which directly related to the UK, British judges were bound to follow it - unless the decision overlooked or misunderstood some feature of domestic law.

The rare decision to ignore the Strasbourg ruling comes days before senior judges hear appeals on life sentences which touch on the exact role of the European Court in reviewing such cases.

Those appeals will focus on the power of judges to order that the most dangerous offenders are never released - even if Strasbourg says such criminals should have their detention reviewed after many years.