Legal Battle Commences – Court Hearing Tues 18 March 2014

We recommend bookmarking this post – we will keeping it updated with links to the latest developments over this hearing.

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Latest updates:

  • The court hearing (18/3/14) has ended – the women have issued a statement here.
  • Before the hearing, the women’s solicitor, Harriet Wistrich, made a statement about why this hearing is important – see below.
  • Last week the police DROPPED their application to strike out the women’s common law claims – see the women’s response to the announcement.
  • To coincide with the hearing supporters are holding a week of solidarity action.

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11.30 am – STATEMENT FROM HARRIET WISTRICH :

Here’s a statement from Harriet Wistrich, the women’s solicitor, about why the hearing is important:

“So far, the police have not responded in a satisfactory way to the common law claims of the five women. The police issued a defence of ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’, and then applied for the claims to be struck out – an application they have now dropped.

“At the hearing today what we’re pushing for is a meaningful defence and disclosure so that the women can get answers to the allegations they have put to the Metropolitan Police over the serious intrusion and disruptions the women suffered.”

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11.00 am PICKET PHOTOS

We’ve received reports that there was a great turnout at the morning picket outside court in support of the women. See more info here.

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BACKGROUND TO THE HEARING

• Women successfully resist police attempt to strike out undercover police abuse casespolice withdraw application
• Now the legal battle commences – but police still obstructing justice

• Until just days before this hearing, five of the women in this case had been facing an attempt by the police to have their common law claims struck out. The police had claimed as they can ‘neither confirm, nor deny’ (NCND) anything about undercover policing, the trial should not proceed.

• The common law claims of “deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office and negligence” are made by the women who were deceived into long-term intimate relationships with undercover officers.

• ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’ was always a flimsy excuse for dismissing the claims, yet rather than see it fall in court, the police have withdrawn their application for strike out – while still claiming publicly that NCND should stand.

• The police wasted months of the women’s time with the application – not to mention another ongoing secrecy battle over their human rights claims. All this has delayed the case from proceeding.

• There are fears that the police may use the announcement of a public inquiry to prevaricate further, while they and the government race to pretend that the abuses are merely ‘historical’, while doing nothing to prevent current or future abuses.

The undercover abuses stole from the women’s lives – now the police’s obstructive tactics deny them justice.

We must show the police and the political system that the women do not stand alone, and that we will not tolerate ongoing abuses.

The battle against secrecy is not over. The women and their support group will be asking for public support during the week of March 17-21, including a solidarity picket outside court on Tuesday 18 March.

For further updates and details please
– sign up to the supporters’ email list (see top right of this page)
– tell your friends about the case
– follow us on facebook or twitter
– if you are a journalist or blogger, send an email request to be added to the press list: media#@#policespiesoutoflives.org.uk (remove hashtags which are there to prevent spam)

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London – Picket outside court – 18th March, 9am (confirmed)

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Please share amongst London friends and networks:

Picket outside Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London, WC2 (Holborn or Temple tube)

9am – 10am, Tuesday 18th March 2014

This picket will be part of a week of solidarity action being called by the support group of eight women who are taking legal action against the police over undercover relationships.

It coincides with a much-anticipated court hearing – see this page for updates about the hearing itself.

Please pass it on – please share the graphic above on social media or print it off and share.

 

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Fighting police secrecy: recent developments (alongside this case)

Today we announced that the next hearing in this case will take place in mid-March. Alongside this case, here is a round-up of other developments in the struggle for justice and accountability over undercover policing – and how they link to this legal action:

– This Monday 27 January, in Southwark Crown Court, John Jordan, The Guardian, the BBC and the Press Association will be “challenging a decision by prosecutors to hush up a miscarriage of justice”. John Jordan’s conviction was quashed when it was revealed Boyling (who one of the officers involved in this case had given ‘evidence’ without revealing his true identity. Rob Evans of The Guardian reports: “Jordan will be seeking to compel prosecutors to tell him why his conviction was unsafe, with the help of his barrister, Matthew Ryder. The three media organisations will also argue that there is a very strong public interest in disclosing to the public the confidential reasons behind the quashing of the conviction.” Read more here.

– Individuals, organisations and lawyers affected by undercover policing or representing those who have been affected (including the women involved in this case and their solicitors), have joined voices to express their lack of confidence in Operation Herne (the police inquiry into the operations of the Special Demonstration Squad), and to call for a full public inquiry. A public meeting is to be held in London in February. Read more here and at Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS).

– Peter Francis, the whistleblower former undercover officer (who has given support to women in this case), has not been offered protection by Operation Herne, and instead is being threatened with legal action under the Official Secrets Act. Channel 4, who aired a documentary with Francis’ testimony is facing legal action demanding that it hand over tapes to Operation Herne – even though Herne is supposed to be investigating the police operations themselves, not those who are trying to bring the issues to light. Read more here.

– This week, the Drax protesters had their convictions quashed, yet even here police tried the patience of the courts over their secrecy. Lord Chief Justice Thomas said “When a court is asked to overturn convictions in a case of potential police misconduct, it is not satisfactory that the police should decide which sections of documents to redact and which to make public. That should be a decision for the courts not the police.” These concerns echo those of the women taking this legal action, as their upcoming hearing will be a bid by the police to keep documents secret.

All of the above developments underline growing concern over lack of progress for accountability, justice and openness.

The women involved in this case concluded last August that they could not co-operate with Operation Herne, due to the police’s ongoing insistence on their Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND) policy. This legal action has faced attempt after attempt to have the case thrown out or heard in secret [link to the case so far], and this March they face a fresh battle, as police lawyers attempt to have their common law claims struck out – again, over NCND.

We urge all our supporters to do what you can [link to Act Now] to show support for this case and for the other actions for accountability and justice. The battle goes on.

To keep updated about developments in this case, please follow us on facebook, twitter, and/or sign up to our supporters email list (see top right of this website). If you are a journalist or blogger, send an email request to be added to the press list: contact#@#policespiesoutoflives.org.uk (remove hashtags which are there to prevent spam)

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Women face fresh legal battle over secrecy

This legal action against the police (brought by women who were deceived into long-term intimate relationships with undercover officers) will face a new fight against secrecy later this month, just days after a year-long fight against human rights claims going to a secret court.

Later this month the women will face an attempt by the police to have their common law claims of “deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office and negligence” struck out – with the police claiming that their asserted “Neither Confirm Nor Deny” policy prevents them from answering questions, disclosing any documents or giving evidence, and therefore they say they will be prevented from having a fair trial.

Not only this, but the police are also applying, in the alternative (i.e if the strike out application fails) for orders:
1. releasing them from standard disclosure obligations (so they don’t have to provide any documents to the claimants or their lawyers)
2. that the identities of each claimant and each police officer and each witness in the proceedings must not be disclosed.

Some months ago, two of the women involved in the case made the difficult decision to waive their anonymity in relation to these deeply personal experiences, so they could speak out publicly about what had happened. Now the police are now applying to silence their voices by having them made anonymous again. The clear picture from this application is that the police are attempting to cover up these scandalous operations and prevent the public from hearing or understanding what went on.

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Additional Notes:

1. The hearing will take place on either 20 or 21 November – the date will be confirmed by the courts closer to the time.

2. Jenny Jones of the London Assembly this week voiced criticism of Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police over what these court battles are “putting the victims through” – key points here.

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Statement re today’s Appeal judgment

Below is the full text of a public statement from three of the women in this case. These three women, alongside three other claimants, appealed against their human rights claims being sent to a secret court. This statement is in response to the judgment on that appeal as handed down today at 10.30am, and it outlines two key decisions made by the Appeal judges.

Public Statement: Tuesday November 5th 2013

The Court of Appeal has today decided against us in the first part of our appeal, namely our attempt to have our human rights cases against the police heard in open court, and have upheld the decision that the claims should be heard by the shadowy and secretive Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). [1] 

However, we welcome the clarity from the Court of Appeal that the actions of the police were intrusive and amount to a breach of Human Rights. They said:

“The establishing and/or maintaining of an intimate sexual relationship for the covert purpose of obtaining intelligence is a seriously intrusive form of investigatory technique. We do not think that it is in issue that it amounts to an invasion of an individual’s common law right to personal security and of a most intimate aspect of the right to privacy under article 8 of the Convention.”  

 
However, despite this recognition of the extreme gravity and potentially abusive nature of this technique, they ruled that the only forum that can adjudicate on the human rights violations, and the “necessity and proportionality” of its uses, is the IPT.
 
The second part of our appeal was successful, which lifts the stay on High Court proceedings, allowing the common law part of the claims to proceed. We welcome this decision, with which the court recognises our “right to have [our] claims heard in open court in accordance with procedures which have been developed and designed to provide a fair route to a just result.” However, we are very disappointed that human rights abuses by the police are not subject to the same fair route to justice. 

The civil claims being brought before the High Court may now be our only access to justice.  However, the approach of the Metropolitan Police to this litigation has shown that they intend to obstruct our access to truth and justice by any means necessary, regardless of costs. They have stated that they will apply for ‘closed materials proceedings’ in the event of claims reaching the High Court, and they are currently applying to strike the other five claims in our case out of the High Court on the basis of their wish to ‘neither confirm nor deny’ that the men involved were undercover officers. [2] 
 
In allowing the High Court stay to be lifted for the common law part of our case, the court has recognised the severe limitations of the IPT procedure.  They described the original decision by Mr Justice Tugendhat to allow the IPT to take precedence as “flawed and plainly wrong”, and described the IPT as being a forum that “…is ill-suited to the determination of claims that involve many issues of fact relevant to both liability and damages.” recognising that hearings before the IPT…

“…may take place in the absence of the applicants; applicants have no  right to the disclosure of evidence relied on by the opposing party or  to know the case against them; there is no right to cross-examine  opposing witnesses or to representation or funded representation; there  is no right to a reasoned judgment and no right of appeal.”

 
It is alarming then that the human rights claims aspect of our case will proceed to the IPT. The judges’ conclusions also highlight the extreme shortcomings of the RIPA legislation, stating that “There is no doubt that, in enacting RIPA, Parliament intended to override fundamental human rights” The Act purports to protect our rights but in fact exists only to override them. 

We remain painfully aware that the contradictions and obstructions that surround our fight for justice continue. Last week the College of Policing re-iterated the words of other senior police officers by stating that undercover police entering into intimate sexual relationships with those they are surveiling is morally reprehensible and should be banned. Yet this week the Court of Appeal decision would seem to indicate that RIPA, the legislation covering these issues, is capable of authorising such relationships.   
 
It is surely now time for the public to demand a thorough overhaul of legislation that can effectively allow state agents to abuse people and then limit the scrutiny of their actions to a secret court process.

The IPT is an affront to the principles of natural justice, and has only upheld a handful of claims in it’s history [3] while the RIPA legislation is deeply flawed and requires a total overhaul if human rights in this country are genuinely to be respected. 

NOTES: 
1 This hearing formed a part of the legal action against the police by women who were deceived into long-term intimate relationships by undercover officers. Read an outline of the legal battle so far.
2 The police’s application to strike out the claims will be heard in the High Court on the 20th or 21st November 2013
3 Alan Travis Time to review the surveillance tribunal, The Guardian, 2nd August 2010

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