Former UNC candidate to pay State’s cost after failed claim over one man protest

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Former UNC candidate to pay State’s cost after failed claim over one man protest

Mere days after one UNC activist was successful in the courts, another opposition activist had her matter dismissed and has been ordered to pay up.

Marsha Walker, a former UNC candidate for Diego Martin West, has been ordered to pay the state’s legal costs, and that of the Police Commissioner, in her failed interpretation summons claim which sought to clarify if police permission was needed for a one-man peaceful protest.

Walker filed the claim after she allegedly attempted to engage in individual protest action outside the Red House in Port-of-Spain on three occasions between July and November 2021 and was stopped by police officers due to a lack of approval from the Police Commissioner’s Office.

After the third time, Walker wrote to the commissioner’s office seeking clarification on the official policy.

The T&T Police Service claimed that approval was required for a “one-man peaceful protest.”

In deciding the case, Justice Joan Charles noted that the legislation only deals with public marches and meetings that involve more than one person.

She said: “There is no doubt that an individual’s ability to host/organise a public meeting or march is subject to the requirements of the Act and the powers granted therein to the Commissioner of Police,” Justice Charles said.
“However, this does not apply automatically to “protest” activities, especially to one-man silent protests,” she added.

“The plain and ordinary meaning of the words makes it clear that a ‘one-man’ protest does not engage the permission requirements of either section 109 or sections 112-115 of the act.

“The issues raised by the claimant do not meet the threshold requirements of a genuine disputable issue of general public importance,” Charles said as she dismissed the claim.

Charles noted that the inconsistency and unequal application of the law had created a sense of arbitrariness, confusion and uncertainty on if permission was required for protests or not since in the past, there have been public protests, including one-man silent protests, without permission of the commissioner and, in some cases, held under the watchful eyes of the police.

“If such permission is required, the conduct of the police raises even more fundamental issues regarding the right to equality of treatment from a public authority in the exercise of its functions under section 4(d) of the Constitution.

“It is plainly discriminatory and fundamentally unfair for the police to demand that the claimant obtain prior permission for her one-man silent protest and disrupt her other protests while threatening to arrest and charge her while others are allowed to protest without any permission with impunity.

“There is no requirement that an individual is required to notify and/or apply for the consent of the Commissioner of Police to conduct a one-man silent protest.

“The Trinidad and Tobago police service, by erroneously interpreting the relevant provisions of the Summary Offences Act to be a blanket restriction on protesting activities, acted illegally in interrupting the claimant’s protesting activities on the basis that notification nor the Commissioner of Police’s consent was not provided for same.”

It was because Walker’s claim on the alleged ambiguity of the law on public protests did not require interpretation, her lawsuit was dismissed.