Tomorrow at 6PM, Saturday 13th March a vigil has been planned for Clapham Common, following Sarah Everard’s disappearance last week between Balham and Streatham. This vigil is being organised by Reclaim These Streets, a group of women angry that streets are not safe places for women. This kind of vigil or protest has long been organised by women after such horrific events. Many people across Lambeth and London have said they will attend and it could well be one of the larger public events in the last year in Lambeth. This raises the issue of public gatherings during the Pandemic and the risks that might arise. The organisers believe the vigil can be held safely but now the Metropolitan Police have indicated they do not believe the protest should take place. This is unacceptable.
The right to protest is important. The right to be safe from assault at all times is important. Public health is important. We must find a way to balance the former with the latter. We accept the organiser’s view that this vigil can be held in a socially distanced manner and that the attendees of the vigil will respect public health guidance. The police seem to disagree. But this is not the end of it, there is now a threat of serious financial and criminal sanctions against the organisers and attendees if the vigil takes place tomorrow.
Let us be clear, the police’s view is not accepted to be correct by a wide range of legal academics and public/human rights lawyers. A coalition of organisers and lawyers decided yesterday, Thursday, to bring an urgent case to the courts to rule on the issue. Our MP for Caithness, Jaime Stone has been working on getting an assurance from the Home Secretary that she will not support prosecutions against the organisers or attendees of the vigil. Other MPs from across the political spectrum have also supported the vigil. This is too important for party politics or tough on crime rhetoric. People must have the right to peacefully protest in a responsible fashion without being threatened with personal sanction by the police. If it turns out that the law does not allow for that, then the law needs to be changed.