What is a Legal Observer?
A legal observer is a trained volunteer who supports the legal rights of activists and observes the policing at major public protests and events. They provide essential legal guidance and are independent witnesses of police behaviour.
We are independent of protests and demonstrations and do not participate as activists or event-goers. Our role is threefold:
- Distributing leaflets and briefing protestors or event-goers about their rights;
- Keeping notes and video recordings of police actions which are used to challenge them on their behaviour;
- Monitoring arrests, including collecting witnesses and helping to connect the arrestee with support in the police station.
As Legal Observers, we are not:
- Medics (GBC has separate medics on some large actions)
- Media spokespeople
- Stewards or police liaison: We may occasionally speak to the police to find out information but will not pass messages between police and activists.
Our work so far
In 2019, Project: Empower in collaboration with North Kensington Law Centre ran the first independent legal observers initiative at the Notting Hill Carnival.
The initiative was the first coordinated effort to provide independent legal observation for carnival-goers and the policing of the event. In 2018 some employees of the law centre attended the Notting Hill Carnival to scope the event after receiving complaints from clients concerning the behaviour of individual police officers being excessive in the use of their powers. We at Project: Empower felt that it is our responsibility to protect the human rights and civil liberties of the local community and those who come to enjoy Carnival.
As a team of independent legal observers, we recorded footage and documented the statistics on stop and search, arrests and the ethnicity of people subject to those respective powers. We found some particular policies of policing to be alarming, namely the use of handcuffs on persons who were searched, and the imprisonment of children as a ‘safeguarding’ policy and the checking of some Carnival-goers immigration status.
The success at Notting Hill Carnival saw us expand to major public demonstrations such as the Extinction Rebellion London Protests , The People’s March in 2019 and the Extinction Rebellion London Protests in 2020.