Street preaching and human rights: Overd & Ors

In Overd & Ors v The Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary [2021] EWHC 3100 (QB), the appellants, Michael Overd, Michael Stockwell Don Karns and Adrian Clark, four evangelical Christians, were arrested at Broadmead shopping centre in Bristol on 6 July 2016 after complaints from members of the public that their street preaching was racist and anti-Islamic and was causing a disturbance. Mr Overd was arrested on suspicion of an offence under s 50 Police Reform Act 2002 and the other three were arrested on suspicion of a racially-aggravated offence under s 5 Public Order Act 1986. They were detained before being released on bail and, ultimately, prosecuted under s 5 of the 1986 Act, but the prosecutions failed.

In the case of Mr Karns, the charges were dropped before they came to court. The other three were tried at Bristol Magistrates Court in February 2017. Mr Clark was found to have no case to answer. Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on appeal [1-3].

All four then sued in the Bristol County Court alleging breaches of Articles 9, 10 and/or 11 ECHR, wrongful arrest, assault/trespass to the person/battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office. HHJ Ralton dismissed all their claims, but they were subsequently given permission to appeal on a limited series of grounds [4-5]:

  • Grounds 1-3 related to the dismissal of their claims that HHJ Ralton had failed to give sufficient consideration to their ECHR rights, that he had been “unreasonable” to find that the officers had had “a legitimate aim” for the purposes of the relevant provisions, that he had erred in his approach to the question of proportionality and in failing to consider the officers’ “positive duty” to protect their Convention rights in relation to each of their arrests and that his findings had been “unreasonable”.
  • Ground 4 was a claim that HHJ Ralton had erred in Mr Overd’s case in failing to deal with his argument that his arrest was unlawful because he had not been informed of the power to arrest for an offence under s 50 of the 2002 Act and that, in any event, that was not the basis for his arrest.
  • Ground 5 was that HHJ Ralton had been wrong to hold that the arresting officers had reasonable grounds to suspect that any of them had committed an offence, given his findings as to what had been reported to the police, given that the officers did not know what each of the claimants had actually said, and given that the appellants were exercising their Convention rights.
  • Ground 9 was a  claim that HHJ Ralton had failed to deal adequately with Mr Overd’s case that the police officers had breached his Convention rights on previous occasions [6].

Mr Overd was in the habit of wearing a video camera on his chest when he was street preaching. During the incident in question, he had switched it on, and HHJ Ralton had summarised what could be seen on the footage as follows [18]:

“25. At about 20 minutes into the footage tensions rose and Mr Overd can be heard asking persons who have got too close to the preachers to “take it back a bit”.

26. At about 26 minutes in, Mr Overd took over the preaching. Tensions rose further when Mr Overd preached that the audience are “depraved people” and that “Mohammed is a liar and a thief, just like you and me” and “Buddha is a liar, just like you and me”. Some of the individuals who argued back were becoming heated.

27. Mr Overd moved on to preach against sex outside of marriage and gay marriage which caused upset. Later on, Mr Overd preached that “Allah is a false god” and he was critical of the Qur’an.

28. At about 46 minutes in a woman, who has been in lively debate with Mr Overd, stood on a chair to preach her word in competition. In the meantime, there is at least one man who was angry and swearing at Mr Clark. An attempt was made to interfere with the GoPro and some of the angrier members of the crowd closed in on the preachers.

29. Mr Clark took over the preaching. The woman stopped preaching but there is another person who started preaching the teachings of Islam (I think) in competition with Mr Clark and that person drew much of the crowd away from Mr Clark. The content of Mr Clark’s preaching was rather less inflammatory and the tension noticeably waned.

30. There is no doubt that at all times all of the Claimants remained calm and polite; they did not use any bad language.”

Subsequently, he accused his audience of being ” vile … rude and aggressive towards the preacher”, “behaving like animals”, “depraved towards God”, “heathens”, “pagans”, “wicked and facing punishment”, “spiritual zombies” and“fools”. He referred to all other religions as “dead … kaput … lies” and to Mohammed as “a liar and a thief just like you and me” [19].

Linden J dismissed the appeal:

  • As to Grounds 1-3, HHJ Ralton had addressed the relevant considerations in relation to the appellants’ Convention rights and he had been entitled to come to the conclusion that he did on the basis of his findings of fact [84].
  • As to Ground 4, no authority had been presented to the Court which supported the contention that unless a person is warned that failure to give their name will provide reasonable grounds to suspect them of the commission of an offence under s 50 and may result in their arrest, their arrest will be unlawful: “I accept that it would be good practice to give such a warning, where practicable, but that is not the same thing” [90].
  • As to Ground 5, HHJ Ralton had reached a permissible conclusion that the officers had reasonable grounds for suspecting the commission of the relevant offences, notwithstanding that it was found subsequently that no offences had been committed [97].
  • As to Ground 9, HHJ Ralton had not dealt inadequately with Mr Overd’s contention that the police officers had breached his Convention rights on previous occasions: “If there was a breach of Mr Overd’s ECHR rights on 6 July 2016 it must follow that there had been a course of conduct which interfered with those rights. But this did not follow at all, and in any event, the Judge found that there was no breach on 6 July 2016. [110].

Appeal dismissed [111].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Street preaching and human rights: Overd & Ors" in Law & Religion UK, 8 December 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/12/08/__trashed-2/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.