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William and Kate wedding protesters lose Supreme Court challenge over arrest

Royal wedding protesters have lost their Supreme Court challenge over the way they were arrested and detained by the Metropolitan Police when Prince William married Kate Middleton.

Cases were brought by a group of individuals who accused the Met of breaching their human rights and acting unlawfully and effectively ''suppressing anti-monarchist sentiment'' at the time of the wedding in April 2011.

But five Supreme Court justices have unanimously ruled in test cases that periods of between two-and-a-half and five-and-a-half hours some protesters spent in custody were lawful and justified because of police fears that they could be involved in possible breaches of the peace.

Dismissing the cases, Lord Toulson said in a ruling given on Wednesday: "The ability of the police to perform their duty could be severely hampered if they were not able to detain somebody for a short period of time in circumstances of the kind described."

The Supreme Court decision upholds earlier decisions by the High Court and Court of Appeal which both ruled the police action was justified and proportionate and the Met was not operating an unlawful policy.

Legal action was taken by 20 individuals who were among scores arrested or subjected to searches before or on the wedding day.

One group involved 15 protesters arrested at various locations in London, including at a Starbucks in Oxford Street, Charing Cross and those attending the Queer Resistance ''zombie picnic'' in Soho Square.

Their lawyers said the case touched on ''the most important of constitutional rights, namely the right to free expression and to protest, both of which are elemental to a properly functioning democracy''.

The appeal before the Supreme Court was brought on behalf of four people, as test cases, on whether the deprivation of their liberty contravened Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The five justices - Lords Mance, Dyson, Reed, Carnwath and Toulson - all agreed that the arrests and detentions were lawful pursuant to Article 5, which relates to liberty and security of person.

Giving the lead decision, Lord Toulson said: "The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 29 April 2011 attracted vast public interest nationally and internationally.

"Managing the crowds presented the Metropolitan Police with a big challenge."

The event took place against a background of recent violent demonstrations and an international terrorist threat assessed at the time as "severe". Thousands of police were deployed across the metropolis.

The judge said at the heart of the claims against the police "was a broad challenge that the planning and execution of the policing operation did not make proper allowance for the democratic rights of anti-monarchist protesters to express their views in a peaceable way".

The police were aware that on the day of the wedding a large number of members of the Royal Family, foreign royalty and other heads of state would be moving around London, and that thousands of citizens including children were expected to converge on central London to take part in the day's celebrations.

A month earlier, a day of action organised by the TUC had been marred by outsiders who committed various offences of violence.

There had been similar violent disruption of student protests in November and December 2010, including an attack on the Prince of Wales's car.

The judge said: "In the build-up to the royal wedding, the police had intelligence that activities aimed at disrupting the celebrations were being planned through social websites.

"The threat level from international terrorism at the time was assessed as severe, meaning that an attempted attack was thought to be highly likely."

The four test case appellants were arrested in separate incidents at various places in central London on the grounds that their arrest was reasonably believed by the arresting officers to be necessary to prevent an imminent breach of the peace.

They were taken to four different police stations and later released without charge, once the wedding was over and the police considered that the risk of a breach of the peace had passed.

The judge said the fundamental principle underlying Article 5 was the need to protect the individual from arbitrary detention - "but at the same time Article 5 must not be interpreted in such a way as would make it impractical for the police to perform their duty maintain public order and protect the lives and property of others".

It was necessary when balancing those considerations "to keep a grasp of reality and the practical considerations".

The judge declared there was "nothing arbitrary about the decisions to arrest, detain and release the appellants" and the police actions were "proportionate to the situation".

He said: "If the police cannot lawfully arrest and detain a person for a relatively short period of time - too short for it to be practical to take the person before a court - in circumstances where this is reasonably considered to be necessary for the purpose of preventing imminent violence, the practical consequences would be to hamper severely their ability to carry out the difficult task of maintaining public order and safety at mass publice events."

The judge said the Article 5 rights of an individual detained for too short a time were safeguarded by the fact that the lawfulness of their detention could subsequently be challenged and decided by a court.

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