*** Updated with copy of the judgment handed down by Mr Justice Lindblom, along with a summary ***
The High Court this week ruled in favour of the City of London Corporation’s calls for the eviction of the Occupy London protest camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Mr Justice Lindblom pointed to the extent and duration of the obstruction of the highway at St. Paul’s as factors behind his decision to back the City, as well as the effect of the camp on Cathedral worshippers and visitors, and an alleged ‘private nuisance’ to the church.
The High Court ruling comes on the heels of recent headlines regarding the failed attempt by the Metropolitan Police to clear the entirety of the Parliament Square protest camp at the start of the week – the site where highly acclaimed peace campaigner Brian Haw spent a decade in protest against British foreign policy in the Middle East.
With the facts of the latest eviction case largely undisputed, the argument before the court instead focused on whether the City of London could prove that an eviction would be a “lawful, necessary and proportionate” interference with protesters’ right to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. According to the court’s interpretation of the European Convention of Human Rights, any interference with these rights must present the “least intrusive way” of addressing protests and meet the aforementioned conditions of lawfulness, necessity and proportionality.
In his decision, the Judge accepted the argument of the City of London that concerns about safety, cleanliness and access to public highways presented “powerful considerations… that easily outweigh factors against [an eviction]” and that an eviction did not “impose excessive burden” on Occupy’s right to free speech and freedom of assembly. He stated that Occupy had “ultimately [failed]… to put right many of the problems caused by the camp.” The Judge also ruled that the camp cannot simply be moved to adjacent land, and that the City of London “had no sensible choice but to do what it has”.
Judge Lindblom paid tribute to the way Occupy London activists conducted themselves in this case, and stated that his ruling was not intended to delegitimise protests against greed and injustice. In avid affirmation of this fact, mic checks sounded out inside the court, stating: “No matter what they say about Occupy, our behaviour has been better than those we are fighting.”
The Judge turned down a direct request to appeal the decision, but granted permission to Occupy defendants to take their case to the court of appeal. Addressing a courthouse packed with supporters, the Judge ruled that in the event of no registered appeal by 16:00 on 27th January, eviction proceedings would be permitted to get underway. Defendant Daniel Ashman responded to the eviction ruling by stating outright that an appeal would be lodged with the Court of Appeal – a position later reiterated by defence John Cooper QC. Leave to appeal the ruling is expected to be made on Thursday. Commenting on the motivation behind such legal action, Ashman stated: “There are still avenues that can be exhausted. We will exhaust these avenues to see whether true justice can exist.”
Barrister Michael Paget commented on the High Court’s conclusion with claims that proportionality and necessity of an eviction are far from obvious, stating: “The Judge could have said that we are not allowed to stay overnight. But he has gone much further than that and said that we’re not allowed to go there during the day. That is the ground for the appeal.”
Charges against the Occupy London site were initially brought forward by the City of London Corporation – the local governing body for London’s Square Mile. This week’s court activity was a follow-up to a five-day hearing ahead of Christmas, which saw the City bring legal action against activists, citing concerns about sanitation on site alongside allegations relating to safety, vandalism, the appeal of the site to some of the city’s more vulnerable residents and obstruction of the public highway. During the earlier hearing, Judge Lindblom turned down a request by David Forsdick, the counsel for the City of London Corporation, for a decision on an eviction order ahead of the festive holiday. Judge Lindblom concluded that more time was needed to reflect on a final decision, pushing the ruling back to the opening of the courts in the New Year.
During the course of this week’s hearing, defendants George Barda, Daniel Ashman and Tammy Samede represented Occupy London. George Barda argued that protest movements are within the interests of wider society, reiterating a sentiment expressed earlier in the day by former Cathedral canon chancellor Giles Fraser, who tweeted ahead of the hearing: “Whatever happens, the voice of protest must continue to be heard.”
Fraser famously resigned his position at the Cathedral in the early days of the occupation site, stating his belief that the church should not put its name to any course of action that may lead to violence against the protesters.
The hearing was followed by a procession of activists and supporters from the Royal Courts of Justice to the St. Paul’s camp. The mood of the subsequent General Assembly was described as “emotional and defiant” by Occupied Times reporter Mircea Barbu, and activists noted that the Judge made no comment on the merit of the protest – instead noting that its up to Parliament to decide on the running of the City of London. While some protesters expressed disappointment in Judge Lindblom, many vowed to continue their protest. According to one attendee at the General Assembly, “some people are starting to talk our language. We are having an impact”.
Speaking at the GA, main defendant Tammy Samede said: “All I want you to do is carry on Occupying. If you’re watching livestream, thank you. If you’re doing other things thank you. We’re all doing different stuff. Think back to how it was in the first few weeks. Keep the energy. Stop fighting, we need to be united. Carry on occupying.” Added Mark Weaver: “As the Judge said, ‘You cannot evict an idea.’ This signals another turning point for the Occupy movement. Occupy is moving and it will continue to move for many years. This is just one turn in the road.”
By Martin Eiermann & Mark Kauri