Police could face legal action after arresting barrister during lawful university strike

Metropolitan Police officers in London
Ed Sykes

On 13 January, police reportedly arrested a barrister and trade union official on a lawful picket line. His legal representative later revealed that she was exploring potential legal action to ‘hold the police to account’.

“A dangerous precedent”

The events unfolded at St George’s, University of London, whose medical school was facing strike action over the issue of outsourcing. The United Voices of the World (UVW) union, which organised the action, said the arrest of the barrister – currently the head of the UVW’s legal department:

marks a potential watershed in industrial relations and could set a dangerous precedent for the erosion of civil liberties and workers’ rights if left unchallenged.

12 police officers reportedly responded to a call from university management asking them to move workers and trade union officials off the picket line. They issued a letter from the university which argued that the strike action could not take place on NHS property. Officers then threatened those present with arrest if they took longer than five minutes to leave.

Barrister Franck Magennis questioned the legal basis for the police warning and was, according to the UVW:

swiftly arrested and handcuffed, and subsequently de-arrested and released less than five minutes later on the condition that he immediately leave the site.

“Important constitutional issues” at play

Magennis said after his release that:

If my false imprisonment goes unchallenged, that would allow the Metropolitan Police to criminalise what is lawful civil activity, and would have a chilling effect on workers’ ability to stand up to bosses and exercise their civil liberties. Anyone concerned with a worker’s right to take industrial action, and with a citizen’s right not to be arbitrarily arrested, should be seriously concerned about the way the police have acted today. Workers should be allowed to go on strike without being threatened with arrest. This is an outrage.

Magennis’s legal representative Susie Labinjoh, meanwhile, insisted that:

clearly important constitutional issues are raised by Mr Magennis’ arrest. We will be looking at all legal avenues to ensure that the police are held to account, that trade union members are not criminalised for going on strike, and that people are not arbitrarily arrested.

Featured image via Yukiko Matsuoka

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