Two recent cases have required the High Court and Court of Appeal to consider in detail the use by local authorities of different powers contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (“ASBCPA”) to limit or prevent protests that have contained a strong religious or moral element. To what extent are the courts prepared to sanction the use of these powers in relation to types of activities that perhaps would not immediately spring to mind when the words ‘anti-social behaviour’ are heard? The answer, in two words, is ‘very prepared’, judging by the decisions in the cases of Dulgerhiu v London Borough of Ealing  EWCA Civ 1490 and Birmingham City Council v Asfar  EWHC 3217 (QB).
The first case concerned a challenge to the imposition by the London Borough of Ealing of a Public Spaces Protection Order. In the second the High Court granted a final anti-social behaviour injunction, sought by Birmingham City Council under section 1 of the 2014 Act. While the cases raise real issues as to the balancing of the Human Rights Act 1998 articles 9, 10 and 11 rights of the ‘protestor’ against those affected by the protests, as will be seen the Courts have had little hesitation in approving or taking action where there was evidence of real harm being caused.
In Catt v United Kingdom  ECHR 76, the European Court departed from and disagreed with the Supreme Court, holding that the police’s collection and retention of data of a peaceful protestor was an unlawful interference with Article 8 of the Convention.
Mr Catt was a 94-year-old man from Brighton; a peaceful protestor who regularly attended public demonstrations since 1947. In 2005, he began attending demonstrations held by ‘Smash EDO’. Although there was often serious disorder and criminality at Smash EDO’s protests, Mr Catt only ever attended in a peaceful capacity and was never charged with anything.
In 2010, he made a ‘subject access request’ to the police, to identify what records, if any, they held on him. The police disclosed sixty-six entries identifying his attending protests between 2005 and 2009. Some were EDO Smash protests, many were other protests. All of these records were held on the police’s “Extremism Database”.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, ‘ACPO’, refused to delete the entries on Mr Catt. They failed to give any reasons for this refusal, and so Mr Catt judicially reviewed ACPO’s decision. In so doing, he claimed a breach of his article 8 right to privacy.
In Sheffield City Council v Fairhall  EWHC 2121 (QB), the Court has been asked to consider the extent to which the decision in DPP v Jones  UKHL 5;  2 AC 240 can be relied upon as a right to conduct peaceful but disruptive protest on the highway.
There has been a long battle in Sheffield to prevent the local authority’s tree-felling programme. In an effort to discharge its obligation under s.41 of the Highways Act 1980 more efficiently, Sheffield City Council contracted out its maintenance contract to Amey Hallam Highways Ltd. In operating the contract, Amey identified a large number of trees, many of them healthy, that it wished to cut down. Campaigners believed that the contract into which Sheffield City Council entered was unlawful as it put, the Defendant submitted, profiteering (by Amey) and cost-cutting (by the Council) ahead of its environmental obligations.