Police received ‘last-minute’ powers to fine Black Lives Matter protesters
Police powers used to fine hundreds of people at Black Lives Matter protests in Northern Ireland over the weekend came into force just hours before the protests began, it has emerged.
Amnesty International and the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) have voiced concerns over the “last-minute amendment” of regulations at 11pm the night before the protests.
The PSNI has already come under sharp criticism from human rights group and lawyers for fining protesters, some of whom are already planning to challenge their fines in the courts.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director, said: “The last-minute amendment of regulations to allow fines against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests is unacceptable.
“As human rights organisations, we recognise the complexities of the current situation, balancing the right to protest and the need to protect public health.
“But even in times of emergency, law enforcement officials may only use means that is necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective.
“The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tweeted that ‘People have a right to protest peacefully and while observing social distancing’, yet people in Northern Ireland are being fined and face prosecution for doing just that. The fines should be voided and allegations of racial profiling in the issue of such fines must be examined.”
Brian Gormally, director of CAJ, said: “We have serious concerns both about the confused and unsatisfactory nature of emergency legislation in Northern Ireland and the policing operations over the past weekend in response to the Black Lives Matter protests.
“The regulations here do not address the right to protest and instead the PSNI is relying on powers designed to restrict social gatherings that only became enforceable the night before the protest.
“The enforcement powers themselves are so vaguely drafted that they are reminiscent of the notorious Special Powers Acts.
“We urgently require clarity from the Executive and PSNI to ensure that the regulations expressly uphold the right to protest in an effective and safe manner.”