Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s appeal against a ruling that police wrongly facilitated illegal loyalist flag protest marches is to be fast-tracked.
Senior judges agreed to list the challenge for hearing next month after being told it involves issues of operational importance for how the PSNI deals with parades.
In April the High Court held that a police commander misdirected himself in believing he was hampered by law from stopping the parades and arresting participants.
The PSNI handling of demonstrations was also found to have breached the human rights of a nationalist resident.
The verdict was delivered in a case over weekly processions from east Belfast to the city centre during December 2012 and January 2013. Protests were held in response to the decision to restrict flying of the Union Flag at City Hall.
A man who lives in the Short Strand went to court to challenge the PSNI’s failure to provide assurances it would prevent any future parade past his home. He claimed this breached his privacy and family life entitlements under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was also contended that police failure to prevent the parades contravened both the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 and the Police (NI) Act 2000.
Lawyers for the resident, identified only as DB, argued that no notification was given for any of the parades in December or January. Police instead allowed un-notified processions to take place and failed to arrest those involved, they claimed. DB’s legal team contended that he had been left “besieged” by the disorder.
As a result of the ruling in that case (see right) counsel for the PSNI asked the Court of Appeal yesterday for an early hearing. Tony McGleenan QC said: “The issue in this case is one of some operational importance to police in terms of managing processions.”
According to DB’s lawyer the court may have to decide if the issue is now academic.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan agreed to have the case put into the list for June.
Mr Justice Treacy had held that Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, the commander in charge of the PSNI operation around the protests, was “labouring under a material misapprehension” in believing police were hampered from stopping the parades by the 1998 Act or human rights legislation. During the period in question police did not behave proactively in prosecuting those organising and participating in parades, the judge found. In his assessment ACC Kerr did not seem 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. He also described the policing operation at that time as being characterised by “unjustified enforcement inertia”. Immediately after this verdict, the Chief Constable confirmed it would be challenged.