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Supreme Court to rule later on Northern Ireland police union flag row

Published 15/11/2016

The decision to limit the number of days the Union flag flew over City Hall was opposed in loyalist demos
The decision to limit the number of days the Union flag flew over City Hall was opposed in loyalist demos

The UK's highest court has reserved its judgment in a legal battle over how Northern Ireland police handled the union flag protests.

Supreme Court justices in London have been asked to rule on the latest round of the action.

In April 2014, a High Court judge ruled in favour of a resident of the nationalist Short Strand area of east Belfast, who claimed the police's failure to stop unnotified loyalist marches past his home between December 2012 and February 2013 breached his right to privacy and family life.

But, later that year, appeal judges overturned the ruling following a challenge by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The Supreme Court has heard an appeal by the resident, who challenges the policing strategy.

Mass loyalist demonstrations, some of which descended into serious violence, were staged across Northern Ireland in opposition to Belfast City Council's decision to limit the number of days the union flag flew over City Hall.

As permission for the loyalist marches was not sought from the Parades Commission adjudication body, the events were not lawful.

In finding in favour of the unnamed resident, the judge at the High Court in Belfast found that police had not properly understood their powers to intervene in the protests.

But three appeal judges, among them Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, came to a different conclusion and allowed the PSNI's appeal against the judgment.

The PSNI had argued that the original ruling regarding its handling of union flag protests would have placed major constraints on how it polices future parades and demonstrations in the region.

They said commanders' decisions to contain the protests and pursue arrests and charges at a later date fell within their discretionary powers.

A panel of five Supreme Court justices, headed by the court's president Lord Neuberger, heard legal argument on Tuesday before reserving their ruling to a date to be fixed.

One of the issues the justices will be deciding is "whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland misdirected itself as to the extent of its legal powers to stop illegal parades".

The second is "the appropriate standard of review and scope of discretion to be afforded to the police in making operational decisions concerning public order issues".

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