Police chiefs were fully aware they had the power to stop illegal Union Flag protest marches, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.
In a rejection of stinging judicial criticism that a senior commander was confused about the law, counsel for the PSNI said a decision had been made to block the earliest of the parades.
Plans only changed after intelligence revealed loyalist paramilitary involvement in associated violence which could pose a risk to life, senior judges were told.
Outgoing Chief Constable Matt Baggott is seeking to overturn a ruling that the force wrongly facilitated un-notified and violent processions.
His appeal hearing was fast-tracked due to its operational importance for how police deal with contentious marches.
The case centres on the PSNI’s handling of weekly demonstrations at the decision on December 3, 2012 to restrict the flying of the Union Flag outside Belfast City Hall.
In April the High Court held that Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, the commander in charge of the operation around the protests, misdirected himself in believing he was hampered by law from stopping the parades and arresting participants.
Police were also found to have breached the human rights of a nationalist resident exposed to accompanying disorder.
During the period in question police did not behave proactively in relation to prosecuting those organising and participating in the parades, High Court judge Mr Justice Treacy found.
In his assessment the commander did not appear to have fully appreciated that an un-notified parade has the same status as one which takes place in defiance of a Parades Commission determination.
But senior counsel for the PSNI argued yesterday that Mr Justice Treacy’s findings were flawed and unfair.
Tony McGleenan QC claimed the judge had not understood the operational approach of senior officers grappling with resource issues and trying to ensure no escalation in surrounding violence.
The appeal continues.