I don’t want to intrude on the Labour party’s private grief, so I will instead respond to Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) who, for some reason, has taken it on himself to lay down what should happen regarding Islam4UK’s threatened march through Wootton Basset.
Sir Hugh is quoted today in the Telegraph as saying that the extremists “have the right to march … people might not like it but that is the law”.
Leaving aside whether that is consistent with the postion Sir Hugh took as Chief Constable in Northern Ireland, my first reaction is what on earth has it got to do with him.
Sir Hugh Orde heads an organisation which is a private company and has never been given any right to seek to interfere with police operational decisions, any more than it has a right to determine police policy.
By saying he would be “surprised” if they were to block the protest, Sir Hugh applies quite inappropriate pressure to Wiltshire’s Chief Constable, Brian Moore, and his excellent deputy, David Ainsworth, with whom I worked when he was an Assistant Chief Constable in Kent.
Sir Hugh is always terribly keen to assert the independence of chief constables when there is any suggestion that they should do what someone who has been elected wants, yet here he is sticking his nose into their operational decisions.
Second, there is a strong argument that Sir Hugh has got the law wrong. Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986 states as follows:
13.— Prohibiting public processions.
(1) If at any time the chief officer of police reasonably believes that, because of particular circumstances existing in any district or part of a district, the powers under section 12 [imposing conditions] will not be sufficient to prevent the holding of public processions in that district or part from resulting in serious public disorder, he shall apply to the council of the district for an order prohibiting for such period not exceeding 3 months as may be specified in the application the holding of all public processions (or of any class of public procession so specified) in the district or part concerned.
(2) On receiving such an application, a council may with the consent of the Secretary of State make an order either in the terms of the application or with such modifications as may be approved by the Secretary of State.
Contrary to Sir Hugh’s view, the police in Wiltshire therefore do potentially have the power to ban a march – if the democratically elected local council and the democratically elected Secretary of State agree with them.
Further, it is far from clear that Sir Hugh can rely on the Human Rights Act in support of his view that Islam4UK should be allowed to protest at Wootton Basset in the manner threatened. Section 3(2)(b) states very clearly that the act “does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible primary legislation”.
Moreover, the article 11 right is hedged with restrictions such that it should in any event be compatible with the power of Wiltshire police and those whom we elect to ban a march as threatened:
Article 11 – Freedom of assembly and association
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
We will shortly be asking the electorate for a mandate on what needs to be done to make the police properly accountable to the public they serve. Sir Hugh’s comments emphasise just how overdue that is.