Police and council must pay Nation of Islam £90,000 damages

Police and council must pay Nation of Islam £90,000 damages after High Court judge rules they broke the law by stopping Louis Farrakhan from addressing south London event

  • Nation of Islam was planning to hold an event in August 2017 in south London
  • Organisers had arranged for Louis Farrakhan to make a broadcast from the US 
  • But he was banned by Met Police and Lambeth Council from addressing event
  • High Court has today ordered the authorities to pay £90,000 damages  

The Metropolitan Police and a London council have been ordered to pay tens of thousands in damages after a High Court judge found they infringed the rights of a black Muslim group.

Members of the Nation of Islam had applied to Lambeth Council for a permit to hold an event in Kennington Park, south London in August 2017.

As part of the event, called the 4th Africa International Day of Action, organisers had planned for the head of the group Louis Farrakhan to make a remote broadcast from the US.

But when concerns were raised by the council’s community safety team and the Metropolitan Police, conditions were placed on the permit preventing Mr Farrakhan from addressing the event in any way.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was hoped to speak at the event in August 2017

Abdul Hakeem Muhammad, the UK representative of the Nation of Islam, and 33 other attendees brought a claim against the force and council due to the restrictions.

On Monday, Martin Forde QC for the claimants, told the court: ‘Those objections were purportedly based on concerns relating to public order, specifically disorder by those not associated with the event seeking to disrupt it.’

Mr Forde outlined Mr Farrakhan’s speech was going to be about reparations, adding: ‘This discourse has been ongoing and it was thought that he could contribute to it.’

In written arguments, Mr Forde also said: ‘All of the claimants in this case are of black African descent, as were most of the audience.

‘Therefore, the topic of reparations is of considerable importance to many if not most of those who attended the event and more generally one of international consequence.’

The High Court heard Mr Farrakhan was barred from speaking at the event due to the risk of counter-protesters, which the Metropolitan Police later accepted they had failed to balance.

Mr Forde told the court: ‘It is right to say that he is a person who has attracted a degree of historic controversy.’

In 2019, Mr Farrakhan was one of several figures banned from Facebook for violating its policy on hate and violence.

The barrister added that Mr Farrakhan’s current image has been ‘misrepresented in a very sensationalised way in the media’.

The claimants, police and council came to an agreement before trial, with the public bodies accepting they had breached the group’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought and religion.

The High Court heard Mr Farrakhan was barred from speaking at the 4th Africa International Day of Action

Ranjit Bhose QC, for Lambeth Council, said: ‘Its case was, and remains, that the conditions and restrictions preventing Louis Farrakhan from speaking had nothing to do with the topic.’

James Berry, for the Metropolitan Police, added: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service has no desire to stifle speech on reparations.’

In written arguments, Mr Berry said that the force’s assessment of the risk from potential counter-protesters was not about the speech but ‘extreme views’ expressed by Mr Farrakhan.

Mr Justice Garnham made a declaration stating that Scotland Yard and the council had both ‘unlawfully infringed’ on the claimants’ rights under the Human Rights Act.

He said: ‘The rights protected by articles nine and 10 are of fundamental importance.

‘The fact that the fundamental rights are potentially subject to restrictions places a heavy burden on those charged with such matters,’ he continued.

The bodies were ordered to pay a combined £92,250 in damages, and the council faces a bill of £175,000 in legal costs.

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