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Barrister and trade union official unlawfully arrested on picket line to mount legal challenge

A barrister who is also a trade union official was unlawfully arrested yesterday on a picket line during an industrial dispute over the role of outsourcing at St. George’s University in London.

The independent trade union, United Voices of the World (UVW), which organised the industrial action, has said that the arrest marks a potential watershed in industrial relations and could set a dangerous precedent for the erosion of civil liberties and workers’ rights if left unchallenged.

The incident, which took place shortly after 9am, saw 12 police officers arrive at St. George’s University after being called in to dispel employees and trade union officials from a lawful picket. The Metropolitan Police then issued strike participants with a letter from the University stating that the picket needed to take place outside of NHS property.

When barrister Franck Magennis of Garden Court Chambers, who is currently seconded to UVW as the head of the legal department, inquired into the legal basis of the warning, he was arrested and handcuffed.

He was subsequently de-arrested and released less than five minutes later on the condition that he immediately leave the site.

In latest developments, Mr Magennis’ solicitors, Hodge Jones & Allen have secured an assurance from the Metropolitan Police that for today’s ongoing industrial action only the neighbourhood policing team will be deployed to “monitor the protest and ensure it passes peacefully”. The assurance added that “officers will of course respect workers’ rights to protest peacefully”.

Mr Magennis is now exploring his legal options in relation to his arrest.

Speaking on behalf of her client, Susie Labinjoh, of Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors said:

“Mr Magennis’ arrest clearly raises important constitutional issues. 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. The police must respect and uphold union members’ right to protest.”

Franck Magennis said;

“If my false imprisonment goes unchallenged, the Metropolitan Police would in effect be allowed to criminalise what is lawful civil activity. This would have a chilling effect on workers’ rights. Anyone concerned with a worker’s right to stand up and take industrial action, without being arbitrarily arrested, should be seriously concerned about the way the police have acted in this affair.

“Workers should be allowed to go on strike without being threatened with arrest. This is an outrage.”

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