Union’s head of legal receives apology over picket line arrest

Magennis: Outcome should send a message

A barrister working as a trade union’s in-house lawyer has received a formal apology and damages of £3,000 from the Metropolitan Police after he was arrested on a picket line.

Franck Magennis of Garden Court Chambers was at the time seconded to United Voices of the World (UVW) – which represents low-paid and predominantly migrant workers mainly in London’s outsourced industries – as head of the legal department.

In January 2020, he was part of a protest on behalf of outsourced security guards at St George’s medical school, part of the University of London, who were complaining about being paid less than in-house staff.

Police officers were distributing leaflets on behalf of the university in an attempt to dissipate what was a lawful picket line and threatened protestors and union officials with arrest unless they left the premises.

Mr Magennis questioned the legal basis of the threat of arrest and was then arrested, handcuffed and searched by police.

He was subsequently de-arrested and released less than five minutes later on the condition that he immediately leave the site. The picket was forced to move away from the university campus.

In a letter last week, the Metropolitan Police apologised for his treatment. Inspector Andy O’Donnell of the Directorate of Professional Standards wrote: “Whilst the Metropolitan Police Service constantly strives to maintain the highest standards, incidents occasionally occur when the level of service falls below that standard.

“On this occasion, and on the facts as known, it would appear that the level of service has fallen below the requisite standard.

“I would therefore like to express my regret for the distress that you have suffered as a result.”

The police agreed to pay a further £2,000 to the UVW for breaches of the articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association respectively.

Mr Magennis, who had claimed false imprisonment, said: “My impression is that they made this decision in advance, that they wanted to arrest someone in a way that was very visible so that everyone else in the picket line would see that someone was being arrested and see the handcuffs and would immediately understand the significance.”

He added that the apology “should send the message that we know our rights and that, if the police show up and try and do the bosses’ bidding, if they set a foot wrong, if they make a single mistake, we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

Susie Labinjoh, the partner at London firm Hodge Jones & Allen who acted for Mr Magennis and the UVW, said: “Magennis’s arrest raises a multitude of key constitutional issues. It is vital that trade union members are not criminalised for going on strike and that people are not arbitrarily arrested.

“The Metropolitan Police must be held accountable for its actions to ensure that the threat as arrest is not used as weapon to dissuade union members from their legal right to picket. This outcome is a step in the right direction.”

UVW general secretary Petros Elia added: “This has huge implications for the wider union movement at a pivotal moment when workers are exercising their right to strike up and down the country amid a cost-of-living crisis. We hope it will send the message that we know our rights and we defend them.”

    Readers Comments

  • John Welch says:

    By what authority were police officers distributing leaflets on behalf of the employer ? Is that malfeasance in a public office ?

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