One of Britain’s top barristers involved in Christian free speech cases says that police arrests of anti-monarchist protestors before the coronation of King Charles is an instance of ‘serious lawlessness by the police’. On Saturday, a group of six campaigners were taken into custody just before the ceremony in Westminster.
According to Paul Diamond, who has successfully argued many ground-breaking cases; on religious rights, freedom of speech and civil liberties, “there is an undercurrent to all of this” and a “great politicisation”.
The head of the Met Police described the arrest of the anti-monarchy campaigners just before the coronation as "unfortunate". But Sir Mark Rowley defended his officers' actions - saying he supports what they did in a "unique, fast-moving" situation.
Paul Diamond represented British Airways employee Nadia Eweida in her claim that she had a right to wear a small Christian cross at work. Speaking to Premier Christian Radio, he said about the arrested protestors, “They've done very well to get an apology out of them, because the police don't normally apologise when they do law enforcement action”.
Acknowledging that the security forces and the police were on high alert, he added: “The fact remains, people do have a right of freedom of expression. They do have a right of peaceful assembly at public events or a public function that is not private in any way.”
“There are some grey areas between nuisance annoyance and legitimate protests. But in essence, legitimate protest will win. And the police obviously made a mistake”, he added.
Christian activist, Savitri Hensman told Premier that the arrests were disturbing: "This was a violation of basic freedoms long protected in law, in line with a Christian ethos but also reflecting the beliefs of many others: the state and powerful individuals should not be able to silence dissent. I fear what might happen in future, for instance to those campaigning to defend NHS and other vital services."
The force were accused of being "heavy handed" after holding 64 people in total. But Rishi Sunak defended the new police powers. The prime minister says the legislation gave officers the 'powers they need' to deal with disruption.
But Paul Diamond challenges this view: “The law is very unhelpful at the moment. I think the police are hesitant to enforce the powers they've already got and so have given an apology. But they can be sued for false imprisonment.”
Mr Diamond also challenged inconsistent policing, arguing that certain protest groups are given protections, while church groups are targeted. “One is deemed free speech”, he told Premier, “the other is deemed hate speech”, he said.
“If you're Extinction Rebellion, you can shut down the M25, or shut down a town. But a Christian street preacher will be picked up in 15 minutes for quoting a Bible verse”, he continued.
“This is serious lawlessness by the police. It is called lawlessness. The law has to be applied neutrally to all people. It's not a subjective view of the officer if someone complains. And they clearly are using their powers politically. If you were an Extinction Rebellion, or even a gay rights activist, I think you'd be given great latitude” he said.
Commenting on how Christians should conduct themselves in public places, Mr Diamond advised against provocation:
“So what can a Christian do? The most sensible thing to do is always use moderate language. Don't use inflammatory language, don't ever be provoked. Some people provoke by doing sex acts in front of Christian preachers. Don't be provoked, always speak moderately.”
“What's your mission? Your mission is not to annoy people. It's to convert people, to engage with people”, he continued.
“If you want to do that, stick fairly closely to the Bible. I don't think we've got to the stage yet in our society where the Bible is a 'hate book'. You are entitled to believe the scriptures and convert people to the beliefs of your scriptures, but you have just got to be very moderate in language”, he said.
But Paul Diamond gave a warning against certain police activity, citing the arrest of the anti-monarchy protestors:
“You have to brace yourself for a very politicised police force. They may well arrest you, hold you in a van, then say ‘well, we can't prosecute’, and you'll get acquitted. And this is going to cause a problem. So they hope you'll go away. But just like these people, you're entitled to an apology. And then you can sue them for false imprisonment”, he added.
“False arrest of someone that was not a lawful arrest is false imprisonment. And the police will be sued and they are sued quite regularly and they will give payments”, he concluded.