No5’s Philip Rule defends protest rights of acquitted Birmingham pub bombing campaigners tried for alleged breach of Covid-19 lockdown measures

Wed, 08 Sep 2021

No5’s Philip Rule defended the ‘Justice 4 The 21 Group’ campaigners Julie Hambleton, Kevin Gormley, John Porter and Michael Lutwyche, who faced trial after refusing to pay penalty notices for an alleged breach of the Covid-19 lockdown measures following a memorial motor rally for the Birmingham pub bombing victims in the city centre on 21 November 2020 which finished with a demonstration outside Lloyd House, West Midlands Police headquarters. The defendants denied any wrongdoing.

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution alleged that there was an offence in breach of Covid-19 lockdown rules when the defendants and others were out of their vehicles outside the police headquarters.  The court heard that no formal order to disperse has been issued to the group and Chief Inspector Cox completely failed to engage with them or speak to them outside Lloyd House.

Philip Rule highlighted the police’s failure to follow the national guidance of the "four E's" policy” (engage, explain, encourage and enforce) with the defendants and the wider group. A later internal review by the police force had raised concerns about the “lack of challenge of the four Es”. Chief Inspector Cox said in court that he had taken the decision not to comment on the four Es process with the group as he felt it would not be “well received”, and he claimed that the guidance was best practice but not legally binding.

Mr Rule argued on the defendants’ behalf that the prosecution and proceedings were an unlawful interference with the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, and they had a reasonable excuse for gathering – applying the guidance of the Supreme Court majority in DPP v Ziegler [2021] UKSC 23; [2021] 3 WLR 179.

District Judge Qureshi addressed Chief Inspector Cox on the force’s treatment in fining the defendants when contrasted with their decision not to fine the thousands who breached the Rule of Six by attending a gathering in Cannon Hill Park in in March 2021.  The judge queried the need for prosecuting the case saying that “it seems a bit of an easy target.” The Chief Inspector said "A decision was made above me that it was appropriate, proportionate and necessary.”

Having heard the evidence the District Judge dismissed the changes and found all the defendants Not Guilty.

Mr Rule was instructed by Chris Stanley of KRW LAW LLP, Belfast, who represent the Justice 4 the 21 campaigners.

Press reports of the trial include:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-58475692

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/pub-bombings-campaigner-julie-hambleton-21509111 

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/birmingham-andy-parsons-justice-ira-b954180.html?amp

Philip Rule is a public law specialist and experienced criminal law barrister.

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