Organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard are continuing talks with the Metropolitan Police to work out how the event could go ahead safely.
Reclaim These Streets is planning to host the event in south London on Saturday near to where the 33-year-old, whose body was formally identified on Friday, went missing.
The group brought urgent legal action at the High Court on Friday in a bid for a declaration that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations is “subject to the right to protest”.
Mr Justice Holgate declined to grant the group’s request and also refused to make a declaration that an alleged policy by the force of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” is unlawful.
The judge left it open for talks between the organisers and police to continue over the “application of the regulations and the (rights to freedom of expression and assembly)” to the event, but said it would “not be appropriate” for the court to make the declaration sought.
In a statement after the ruling, Reclaim These Streets said: “We are working with (Lambeth) Council, who remain wholly supportive.
“We call on the police to act within the law now and confirm that they will work with us to ensure that the protest can go ahead within the context of the overwhelming public response to Sarah Everard’s death.”
In a tweet, they added: “We are now in discussions with the Met to confirm how the event can proceed in a way that is proportionate and safe – our number one priority.”
However, a statement from the Met urged people to “stay at home or find a lawful and safer way to express your views”.
Commander Catherine Roper, the force’s lead for community engagement, said: “I understand this ruling will be a disappointment to those hoping to express their strength of feeling, but I ask women and allies across London to find a safe alternative way to express their views.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently enforced the Covid regulations and have made difficult decisions during a range of gatherings on issues about which people have felt very strongly.
“Our hope has always been that people stick to the Covid rules, taking enforcement action is always a last resort.
“We continue to speak with the organisers of the vigil in Clapham and other gatherings across London in light of this judgment and will explain the rules and urge people to stay at home.”
Reclaim These Streets was organised after the disappearance of Ms Everard prompted a public outcry about women’s safety.
The event was due to take place at Clapham Common bandstand at 6pm on Saturday.
In his ruling, the judge said: “Given what has happened at the hearing, it may well be that there will be further communication between the claimants and the solicitors they instruct and the police to deal with the application of the regulations and (the rights to freedom of expression and assembly) to this particular event.”
However, he added: “That is not a matter upon which the court should comment.”
The judge concluded: “I decline to grant the interim relief sought. But I hope that, in this judgment, I have clarified the application of the law in so far as it is appropriate for me to do so at this stage.”
Lawyers representing the organisers earlier argued the Met’s interpretation of the Covid-19 restrictions goes against human rights law.
Mr Hickman told the court a risk assessment had been carried out, adding: “It is proposed to organise it in a responsible manner, in co-ordination with the council and the police.
“Arrangements will be made to ensure that it is conducted in a Covid-secure manner.”
The barrister said the measures would include compulsory mask wearing and social distancing, staggered arrival and departure times and marshals to oversee the event.
Mr Hickman said in written submissions that police “reversed their position” after initially appearing to support the vigil.
He added that police told the organisers that “the vigil would be ‘illegal’ and that their ‘hands are tied'” by coronavirus restrictions.
The barrister also said the claimants were told that, as organisers, they would be liable to be fined £10,000, and potentially to be arrested, if they “proceeded with their efforts to organise the vigil”.
George Thomas, representing the Met, said there is no “blanket ban” on protest as far as the force is concerned.
He said: “The situation is that what is proposed here is a gathering of unlimited number and, given great and very understandable public concern and public interest in what has happened… it would not be at all surprising if the numbers were in the thousands.”
The barrister said this could lead to significant crowds in a central London location, at a time when Parliament’s intention is to not allow gatherings of more than two people for health reasons amid the pandemic.
He also told the court: “Nothing I have said today should in any way be understood by anyone hearing today’s proceedings as the Metropolitan Police doing anything other than taking extremely seriously the concerns that the public, many members of the public, have expressed.
“The Metropolitan Police share the anger that many members of the public have about what has happened.
“It has every sympathy with the underlying cause that those wishing to have the vigil tomorrow would seek to show.
“But, in the context of the coronavirus crisis that the country is currently in, it would not be appropriate for the police to allow such a large-scale gathering to take place.”
In a tweet shortly after the ruling, Pippa Woodrow – one of the barristers representing the claimants – said: “Ball is now in the Met’s court to confirm how the events can go ahead in a way that is proportionate and safe.”
Another barrister for the claimants, Adam Wagner, tweeted: “At 3pm today, every police force in England was saying protest could never be lawful under Covid regulations.
“The position now, because of the ruling, is protest can in principle be lawful and it is up to the police to assess the proportionality.”
A Government spokesman said: “All of our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and friends at this terrible time, and the Government recognises why so many women and girls across the country want to pay their respects.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, which is why we urge people to do this safely and to continue to avoid mass gatherings.
“We have also reopened our nationwide call for views on tackling violence against women and girls. So many have bravely shared their experiences over recent days and the Government is listening.”