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Garden Court barrister to sue police after being arrested on uni picket line

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Franck Magennis accuses cops of an ‘outrageous breach of civil liberties’

Franck Magennis being arrested outside St George’s, University of London — credit: Zachary Whyte/United Voices of the World

A trade union barrister has pledged to sue the Metropolitan Police after being arrested on a picket line outside a London university.

Franck Magennis, head of legal for the United Voices of the World trade union, accused the Met of an “outrageous breach of civil liberties” after being briefly handcuffed at a protest at St George’s, University of London, on Monday morning.

Magennis, who is on secondment from prestigious human rights set Garden Court Chambers, says that he has instructed solicitors to sue the police for what he described as “false imprisonment”.

Susie Labinjoh of Hodge Jones & Allen said that “clearly important constitutional issues are raised by Mr Magennis’ arrest. We will be looking at all legal avenues to ensure that the police are held to account, that trade union members are not criminalised for going on strike, and that people are not arbitrarily arrested.”

United Voices of the World has organised 15 days of strike action at St George’s, a leading medical school, in support of its “severely overworked and disrespected” security guards.

Magennis says that police objected to the strikers playing music on the picket line and warned that they were causing nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises contrary to section 119 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. He told Legal Cheek:

“By the time I showed up, the music had already stopped. I was in the middle of having a conservation with a police officer who was saying that everyone here was committing an offence, which is outrageously broad.

I asked the police officer how the offence was made out. If you look at the statute, the offence is committing nuisance ‘without reasonable excuse’. Surely industrial action is a reasonable excuse — and even if you consider that music constitutes a nuisance, which is questionable, it had come to an end. In the middle of this conversation, he just slapped the cuffs on me.”

A video taken by the Wandsworth Guardian shows Magennis arguing with police before being handcuffed. Released just a few minutes later, the barrister is seen to quip “can I get my copy of the Communist Manifesto back?”

Magennis accused police of using his arrest to intimidate fellow strikers. United Voices of the World said that “the incident appears to represent an attempt by the Metropolitan Police to use criminal sanctions to frustrate lawful industrial action”.

While Magennis commented: “If my false imprisonment goes unchallenged, that would allow the Metropolitan Police to criminalise what is lawful civil activity, and would have a chilling effect on workers’ ability to stand up to bosses and exercise their civil liberties”.

Fellow left-leaning barristers sent messages of support. Alasdair Mackenzie of Doughty Street Chambers said “this is outrageous — solidarity to Franck and to the strikers from UVW”.

Magennis says on his chambers profile that he “situates his practice within broader movements for socio-economic equality and political liberation”. He is the co-founder of the Materialist Lawyers’ Group, which “critically interrogates law’s role in reproducing unjust hierarchies and resource distributions”.

Last year United Voices of the World launched a new branch called Legal Sector Workers United, aiming to sign up interns, trainee solicitors and pupil barristers.

Junior lawyer event: How to build a career at a US law firm in London, with lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb, Kirkland & Ellis, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden — this Thursday evening: REGISTER TO ATTEND

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