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Van Ek: conviction under s.12 of the Public Order Act for Breaching Conditions Imposed on Procession

In Van Ek & Jukes v Director of Public Prosecutions (16th January 2013) the Divisional Court dismissed the appeal of two protestors who were convicted of breaching conditions imposed on the route of a procession under s.12 of the Public Order Act 1986 (the POA).

Van Ek and Jukes were participating in a march against education cuts in central London. A specific route had been determined, and the Metropolitan Police had imposed a condition on the procession that it follow this specific route. The route did not take the protestors into Trafalgar Square, where an anti-capitalist protest camp had been set up, and was still present at the time of the march. A police cordon had been placed across the junction between a street and Trafalgar Square to prevent marchers entering the Square.

Van Ek and Jukes asked to go through the police cordon into Trafalgar Square, but were advised to remain with the march. However, a police officer in the cordon noticed that some of the protestors were becoming agitated, and so took the decision to let them through the cordon. The protestors (including the Van Ek and Jukes) were informed before they were let through the cordon that they would be arrested if they breached the s.12 conditions. Having been let through the cordon, the appellants then went to Trafalgar Square to join the camp. They were arrested, charged and convicted under s.12(5) of the POA for failing to comply with the conditions.

On appeal, the appellants argued that the (1) wording of the conditions were vague or inconsistent, (2) when the appellants passed through the cordon, they were no longer part of the procession, therefore the conditions no longer applied to them.

Both arguments were dismissed. In particular, the Court found that

  • the police constable was entitled to let people leave the procession, but could not waive the senior officer’s s.12 conditions;
  • a person could leave a procession, and once they were no longer part of a procession, the conditions did not apply to them. However the District Judge had been entitled to find that the appellants were still taking part in the procession when they departed from its route on the way to the encampment at Trafalgar Square.

A transcript of the full judgment is awaited. But it seems to have been a common sense application of s.12 of the POA, which ought to reassure officers that the Courts will enforce breaches of clearly worded, proportionate conditions imposed on processions.