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Containment within police cordon did not amount to deprivation of liberty
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that, in the case Austin and Others v. the United Kingdom, there had been no violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned a complaint by a demonstrator and some passers-by that they were not allowed to exit a police cordon for almost seven hours during a protest against globalisation in London.
The applicants complained that they were deprived of their liberty without justification, in breach of Article 5 § 1. Their applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights during July 2009.
The Court notably found that the people within the cordon had not been deprived of their liberty within the meaning of the Convention. In particular, the police had imposed the cordon to isolate and contain a large crowd in dangerous and volatile conditions. This had been the least intrusive and most effective means to protect the public from violence. Although the police tried to start dispersing the crowd throughout the afternoon, they had been unable to do so as the danger had persisted.
Since Article 5 did not apply, the Court held – by 14 votes to three - that there had been no violation of that provision.
Notwithstanding the above finding, the Court emphasised the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and assembly in all democratic societies, and underlined that national authorities should not use measures of crowd control to stifle or discourage protest, but rather only when necessary to prevent serious injury or damage.
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