An interim injunction banning protesters objecting to LGBT teaching from demonstrating outside a Birmingham primary school will remain in place ahead of a full trial, a judge has ruled.
Lawyers for the protesters brought a legal challenge on Monday against Birmingham City Council after the authority successfully applied for an injunction on May 31.
The authority’s legal action followed weeks of demonstrations outside Anderton Park Primary School against the teaching of certain aspects of relationship education.
Mr Justice Warby QC, hearing the challenge at the High Court in Birmingham, quashed the original injunction but immediately imposed a fresh interim order, with varied conditions, which still bans protests outside the school’s gates.
He said: “I find it likely the claimant (city council) will establish at trial some of the protesting has gone beyond lawful limits and strayed into harassing, alarming or distressing conduct, through it’s persistence, timing and context.”
The order was made against three individuals – the protest’s main organisers Shakeel Afsar and Amir Ahmed, and parent Rosina Afsar – as well as “persons unknown”.
Protesters brought the challenge after they were not given notice of the original interim injunction hearing in London.
A council barrister told Monday’s hearing the “urgency” and “risk of further escalating conduct” had forced the local authority to act quickly – and not give the usual three days’ notice that an injunction was being sought.
The school’s head teacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, was in court along with about 30 protest supporters.
She previously branded the protests “toxic and nasty” and has allegedly received threats since they began, triggering a police investigation.
Mr Afsar has denounced the making of threats.
He has repeatedly claimed the “peaceful protests”, often featuring a megaphone, are being held because the school’s head has not properly consulted parents about their concerns that relationships teaching is not age appropriate.
He has also claimed the school’s teaching of particular relationship education materials is “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.
Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said she has met parents who had concerns.
The fresh hearing was set to examine the separate issues of whether the interim injunction should stay in place in its current form, ahead of considering a full trial of the issues surrounding the injunction.
Mr Justice Warby set a date for that trial between July 22 and 31, and it is estimated to take two to three days.
Barrister Jonathan Manning, setting out the reasons for the local authority seeking the interim injunction, said: “The aim was not to prevent people expressing strongly held views about issues of equality and education in schools.
“It is to protect the school, by virtue of the small number of roads around it, from behaviour which on any basis it is submitted is unacceptable and intolerable.”
He added it was “no part” of the council’s case that the “defendants’ views were unacceptable to be aired”, but that demonstrations had got “totally out of hand”.
He said there had been talk in literature of a “national protest” outside the school, leading to it closing early on the last day before the May half-term break.
Mr Manning pointed out that as a result, demonstrators brought forward their protest on the last day of school on May 24, to “coincide” with the earlier home time.
He added that counter-protesters putting up placards in support of the LGBT community at the school “had eggs thrown at them”.
Mr Manning said Ms Hewitt-Clarkson had described the protests, in her witness statement, as “volatile, aggressive and intimidating behaviour by Mr Afsar and his colleagues”.
He added it had therefore been “a combination of matters that led to a no-notice application”.
Mr Manning said there had been some remarks around the protests, from an imam, claiming people at the school were “paedophiles” and had “a paedophile agenda”.
The defendants’ barrister John Randall QC, responding, claimed some of the evidence before the judge was full of “selective highlights” from the council’s witnesses.
He added that despite “almost daily” attendances by police, there “has not been a single arrest” during protests.
Mr Randall said: “The picture painted initially, and the evidence now before you, is, in my submission, a misleading and seriously exaggerated picture which crucially suggests that the demonstrations or protests, call it what you will, have crossed the line into non-lawful demonstration.
“Whereas in practice it would require a snowflake sensitivity to regard these as terrifying or threatening demonstrations.”