Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

PSNI acted robustly in response to illegal Union flag protest marches, appeal told

A judge was wrong to brand the policing response to illegal Union flag protest marches as being characterised by "unjustified enforcement inertia", the Court of Appeal has heard.

Senior counsel for Chief Constable Matt Baggott claimed both the level of resources deployed to deal with troublemakers and the decision to bring charges against passive demonstrators undermined the finding.

Tony McGleenan QC insisted a ruling that the PSNI facilitated un-notified and violent processions should now be reversed.

Mr Baggott is appealing against a High Court verdict that 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.

The case centres on the PSNI's handling of demonstrations following the decision in December 2012 to restrict the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Judicial review proceedings were taken by a Short Strand man, identified only as DB, who claimed he was besieged and attacked in his home as demonstrators made their way from east Belfast to the city centre. In April Mr Justice Treacy held that Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr misunderstood the situation in believing police were hampered from stopping the parades by either the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 or human rights legislation.

On the second day of the PSNI's challenge to the verdict, Mr McGleenan said that the tactics and strategies deployed contradicted the judicial assessment.

He said: "Police had resources in place and they did robustly police these situations.

"It's difficult to reconcile (this) with the very strong conclusion that throughout this period there was unjustified enforcement inertia. That's a conclusion we say should be reversed by this court."

Part of the PSNI's case depends on rulings on a previous challenge to how the force dealt with disorder during the Holy Cross Primary School dispute in Ardoyne, north Belfast, back in 2001.

Domestic and European courts endorsed the police handling of that situation, declaring that they should have some discretion in public order situations with the potential to spread.

But Karen Quinlivan QC, for DB, argued that there were key differences between the two situations. In the Holy Cross dispute police were relying on public order legislation, whereas a specific law was brought in to deal with marches, she contended.

The appeal continues.

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