A senior member of the shadow cabinet has criticised Scotland Yard’s plans to push for the prosecution of more than 1,100 Extinction Rebellion protesters.
So far, more than 70 activists have been charged over the demonstrations that brought parts of London to a standstill last month and cost the force £7.5 million.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said on Friday a specialist team of 30 officers is investigating all of the 1,130 people arrested during the protests over 10 days in April.
“It is our anticipation that we are putting all of those to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for decisions,” he said at a briefing at Scotland Yard.
Only the CPS can decide whether or not charges should be brought and shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti hit out at the senior officer’s remarks on Saturday.
“The Deputy Assistant Commissioner would be wise to remember his constitutional role, which is not that of prosecutor, judge or commentator,” she said.
“The police perform a vital role in preserving the law and keeping the peace, which includes safeguarding the rights of peaceful protesters.
“The next Labour government will review the statute book to ensure that the right to peaceful protest is robustly protected.”
The Extinction Rebellion group’s tactics included asking volunteers to deliberately get arrested to cause maximum disruption at roadblocks on Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, while others glued themselves to trains and buildings.
Some 1,130 people were arrested, including Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott, as 10,000 police officers were deployed.
Extinction Rebellion spokesman Ronan McNern said the Met’s hardline approach could play into the campaign group’s hands.
“We have seen doctors, we have seen XR youth – kids with their parents’ permission – doing civil disobedience,” he said.
“If the Met plan is to take those people and put them through the court system, in a way it serves the purpose of Extinction Rebellion. More people will know who these people are protesting. Either way, we win.”
He added: “If the Met decide to do this it’s them who are going to be adding to legal time and that’s their decision.
“On the one hand they seem to be arguing we are wasting lots of police time. But if they are going to put more costs on the legal system, then that’s their choice.”
Mr McNern said there are mixed messages coming from different arms of the state following meetings with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Michael Gove and Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency – one of the group’s key demands.
He said he hopes the UK will show “real leadership” in tackling climate change but warned: “If action doesn’t happen, there will be more people on the streets around the world.”
Further environmental protests, along with US President Donald Trump’s visit in June and demonstrations over the ongoing Brexit debate, are likely to stretch police resources over the summer.
Mr Taylor insisted the Met is equipped to deal with any upcoming actions and said officers from other forces will be called into action if needed.
He said Scotland Yard is in discussions with the Home Office to review the current Public Order legislation – with fears Extinction Rebellion’s tactics could be adopted by other groups – and called for a stronger punishment of those who break the law.