Human rights took a small took backwards on 28 March. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that it is legal to arrest and detain people because of what security agencies say they “might” do.
Now in some ways, this is not new law. It has already been established, for instance in the case of imminent football hooliganism, that law enforcement bodies can make arrests to stop illegal activity from occurring. However, two aspects make this case interesting:
1) The extreme remoteness of the threat in this case. The defendants had been planning a mock wedding ceremony in the street dressed as zombies, in London and on the same day as the Royal Wedding of Prince William in 2011. The people arrested were more than two miles from the actual ceremony and had no intention of causing disruption to the event. They were arrested because in the opinion of the security agencies they “might” have caused disruption. They were held in police cells for six hours and then released without charge once the ceremony was over. Please note that these were ordinary citizens without criminal records or any record of disrupting public events. One suspect was arrested on suspicion of possessing offensive weapons which turned out to be: a packet of biscuits and a comb;
2) The ruling about the legality of detaining people for possible future offences and whether this is a denial of liberty is also interesting given that the UK police and security services intend to rely a great deal more on AI and social media predictive analysis (see for instance: http://spyingtoday.com/2019/02/19/babel-street/).
As one defendant on the case remarked: “This judgement means that the police don’t need a criminal reason to arrest someone and get them out of the way. The outcome of this case has very worrying implications for civil liberties.”
She may have a point.