It will take some time to understand fully the implications of yesterday’s decision not to prosecute Black Lives Matter protestors.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said it would take no action against 14 suspects reported to it for possible breaches of Covid regulations.
The PPS concluded that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) suspects would in their defence have been able to rely on the freedom of expression under the European Convention of Human Rights. They said the fact that the protests related to important social concerns, were peaceful and tried to minimise transmission of the virus were also factors in the decision not to prosecute. As in the Bobby Storey funeral, the PPS cited a lack of legal clarity in the Stormont regulations.
This decision seems to mean that it would have been entirely legitimate to hold protests against lockdown, for example. Lockdown is a matter of huge social concern and demonstrating against it would also involve freedom of expression.
But protests against lockdown were not in fact allowed.
It also seems that protests against the Boris Johnson Irish Sea border betrayal would have been permissible in lockdown on the same grounds, assuming efforts not to spread Covid.
The PSNI has again shown its institutional weakness, and apologised for its policing of the BLM protests. The protests were pre-meditated breaches of what everyone else understood to be limits on public gatherings, and came after a BLM crowd gathered in Belfast days earlier, without penalty.
Prosecutors, police and human rights experts can say what they want to exonerate such crowds during lockdown. But almost everyone else thought the BLM protests and Storey funeral were against the social distancing spirit that the great bulk of people have observed over the last year.
Well over a million people in NI made huge sacrifices to obey what they understood to be the Covid rules.
Once again the authorities have found that those who flagrantly breached the spirit of lockdown in effect did little wrong.
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