Tag Archives: human rights

Arrests at State Opening (for holding a piece of cardboard)

Amid the full pomp and circumstance of the all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men, police surround a quiet and peaceful man and arrest both him and a friend of his “to prevent a breach of the peace”.

The sole reason seems to be because he is carrying, but not openly displaying, a small piece of cardboard bearing a protest message about austerity.

The Tory threat to opt out of Human Rights seems to have been pre-empted by this ‘thought police’ action today in Parliament Square.

Occupy Democracy February – “Equality and Representation”

Last weekend, ‘Occupy Democracy’ returned to Parliament Square for a series of events around ‘Equality and Representation’. Despite an ongoing legal challenge against the GLA over previous repression, on Saturday they faced further arrests by police who appeared to be having difficulty providing a legal basis for their actions.

The afternoon began peacefully on the pavement by Churchill’s statue with a presentation on Islamaphobia, followed by a mock funeral for democracy at the foot of Mandela’s statue.

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Then the activists walked on to the grass area and unfurled a huge tarpaulin, on which they continued debate, with an inspirational offering from Kerry-anne Mendoza (aka Scriptonite).

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Heritage Wardens and police kept interrupting proceedings and attempting to hand over pieces of paper and information to members of the group, but were mostly ignored. Police numbers were also building up, with TSG officers arriving on the scene, and suddenly a dozen or more officers bundled into the crowd, ignoring the shouts that there were elderly and infirm individuals present, and they made their first arrest of the evening, targeting Donnachadh McCarthy, author and media activist. The authorities clearly see him as some sort of focus, as this is the fourth arrest he has endured.

From then on, the evening descended into a petty legal farce and police actions which successfully disrupted the planned events. Superintendent Kohli, heading the police operation, began the evening in assured form claiming his conscience was clear, but as legal arguments ensued, he was heard arguing with CPS about whether CCTV was needed to support any charges, and later literally refused to speak with Bindman’s lawyers and drove away into the night. See the video.

Each of the several more arrests over the evening followed the same bizarre pantomime. A Heritage Warden, surrounded by a large group of TSG officers, would randomly select a member of the public on the grass and (if they didn’t run away), would ask them to leave the grass, without giving any reason for the request. He then claimed they were breaking a Bye-Law by not following a “reasonable direction”, but constant requests to be told the “reason” for the request were ignored. He then asked for a name and address, and if refused, police piled in to arrest the person targeted.

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At one point, people in chorus (using the ‘mic check’ technique of call and response), described to the wardens and officers that some months ago, a Bindman’s solicitor had explained to the commanding Inspector why this exact same scenario was unlawful, and as a result he had withdrawn nearly 200 officers allowing the occupation to continue peacefully – this caused the police and wardens to withdraw and huddle for a while, but they returned for more arrests soon after.

The argument lies around whether a Warden can just issue a direction to leave (which clearly opens him/her up to the dangers of discrimination or infringement of human rights), or whether the “reasonable direction” has to have one of the reasons defined by the rest of the Bye-Laws.

The arrestees were released hours later, and all except Donnachadh, who is facing other charges, were told there would be ‘No Further Action’. Thus, the entire police operation seriously disrupted a peaceful and probably entirely lawful assembly by a few dozen people wishing to discuss the state of democracy in front of Parliament. It seems the occupy movement have a point.

They returned the next day and again held many of their workshops (with topics including ‘feeding the homeless’, ‘black activism’, ‘Greece and Syriza’) on the pavement next to Churchill’s statue.

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Romayne Phoenix

Romayne Phoenix

But when they peacefully moved to the grass, they faced further intimidation and harassment from wardens and police threatening further arrests.

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They finished the day by holding a small rally in front of Parliament.

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Superintendent Kohli certainly had CCTV covered on the Sunday, with a crew of four mysterious figures observing and filming from an overlooking window, and an unmarked green van sporting a powerful surveillance camera just behind the gates of Westminster.

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Occupy Democracy return to the Square on the day of the massive Climate March next month on the 7th.

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Democracy Dan and the Battle of the Plinth

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On Tuesday at about 3pm, a man called Dan scrambled up on to the plinth of Churchill’s statue, and began a lone occupation that continued for 29 hours until an operation involving a scaffolding team, specialist climbing officers, and around 100 other police finally got this peaceful and committed young man down and into custody.

During his protest, two supporters were arrested for throwing him supplies, police claiming that they were therefore obstructing officers who wanted him down.

On Thursday evening both Caroline Lucas MP and Jenny Jones GLA Assembly member were warned by police after trying to throw supplies too. Superintendent Kohli argued that in this case “Human rights are an irrelevence” as the police were entitled to “use force” to execute an arrest.

It is generally agreed in law that force should be used as a last resort, with consideration to the nature of the offence, and the level of resistance. It’s hard to see how torture through starvation and dehydration could be a legitimate and proportionate response to a man sitting peacefully on a plinth.

When Dan finally came down, he was arrested on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress, and criminal damage (using sticky tape to secure a banner). He was later released on bail and returned to the Square, but there were reports later that he was re-arrested after feeding a sausage to a police dog!

Despite the constant police pressure, events continue at Occupy Democracy, and an announcement has been made that the occupation will now extend until 5th November in solidarity with Anonymous’ “million mask march”.

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High Court gives green light to Camden anti-busking law

Campaign UPDATE 23rd March 2014

From Monday 24th March Camden Council have announced their intention to begin enforcement of their anti-busking law which turns singing in the street for fun into a potentially criminal offence. This week, the Keep Streets Live legal team lodged an application with the Court of Appeal. The legal challenge continues but meanwhile activists thought they would ‘celebrate’ Camden’s enforcement of the busking law with another outing of the Citizen’s Kazoo Orchestra. They are advising all buskers NOT to sign up for Camden’s Coercive license scheme under any circumstances. You will only be encouraging them!

Religious processions and protest marches (or similar) are exempted from the requirement to hold licenses to busk, and so, a fit of righteous fervour sees the formation of The Holy Church of the Kazoo which will be holding their first religious protest busk on Monday 24th with a 1pm meeting for a 2pm outing on the streets of Camden outside HSBC near the tube station. Mark Thomas will be helping by drawing up a list of well loved religious tunes from all faiths and none to celebrate religious freedom in a musical way. https://www.facebook.com/events/417081838427421

There’s also a protest busk organised by ‘Meet and Jam’ on Sunday 23rd again outside HSBC from 2pm. Bring an instrument and strum a chord for justice… https://www.facebook.com/events/1511847325709032/

Keep Streets Live are asking for contributions towards the ongoing campaign for the Court of Appeal challenge: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/keep-streets-live-uk/x/2921332

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If you sing in the street or a park in the London Borough of Taliban, and a passer-by appreciates your voice, the authorities can surgically remove your vocal tract and sell it on the black market. Ok, that may be a marginally excessive interpretation of the law, but it’s not far off!

Camden’s new powers define busking as ‘provision of entertainment in the street’, so if you haven’t applied and paid for a busking licence and you ARE singing, you’re OK as long as it’s awful and no-one is entertained, but the moment a passer-by enjoys it you have actually stepped over the legal threshold and will be committing a criminal offence. If you have an instrument, they CAN seize and sell it if you don’t pay up to £1000 fine. The barrister representing the joyless Labour council agreed in court that this interpretation of the law was accurate. After a legal challenge, this morning’s decision by Judge Mrs. Justice Patterson, means the laws will now be in force throughout the Borough.

Rolled-Up Hearing

The hearing took place at the High Court on the 27th and 28th Feb, and was a ‘rolled-up hearing’ which means the judge decides whether there are grounds for a Judicial Review, and then if so, decides the outcome of that JR at the same time.

The case was brought against Camden Council by professional busker and founder of the Keep Streets Live campaign, Jonny Walker, who, through crowd-funding,  managed to raise much of the money needed to ensure he’d be able to pay agreed ‘protected costs’ in the worst possible outcome of a failed challenge and costs awarded against him.

Leigh Day solicitors hired the services of barrister David Wolfe QC, and Camden turned up in court with their legal team and two barristers, led by Clive Sheldon QC.

I sat in court both days, and heard the legal arguments, which I’ll try to distill down here. At the end of the first day, I was not very optimistic, because the judge, Mrs. Justice Patterson, seemed to be quite combative with David Wolfe, very accommodating with Mr. Sheldon, and was concerned to know how long they’d each need on the second day because she was “mindful that Camden wanted to get on and implement the legislation” and she was hoping to be able to give them a verdict before the weekend!

As it turned out, David Wolfe took his time on the Friday, and also gave her rather a lot to think about, so the hand-down was postponed a further week.

Legal Arguments

Camden’s proposed licensing scheme is based on powers given them under the London Local Authorities Act 2012. This Act allows London authorities to issue penalty notices, create licensing schemes, and gives them other powers to combat identified public nuisance.

Camden Council claim that they have identified busking as causing serious public nuisance in the Borough, and that they have brought in a “light touch” licensing regime which will “encourage” busking in the area while controlling situations that have been identified as causing problems.

Their scheme is Borough-wide, and forces buskers to apply for a license. If the musician intends to use any amplification, they have to jump through all sorts of hoops, pay a higher fee, and wait for weeks. Otherwise, they pay a £19 fee several days in advance, and are still subject to all manner of conditions. Breach of conditions, or busking without a licence, is a criminal offence, with up to £1000 fine, and Camden also have the power to seize musical instruments and/or amplification equipment, and sell it if any fine is unpaid.

The challenge had two main aspects. First, David Wolfe questioned whether Camden had provided enough evidence to trigger the legislation in the first place. Second, he questioned whether the legislation was compatible with human rights convention requirements over freedom of expression.

Camden mainly relied on a log of over a hundred telephone complaints received by the Council, but Mr. Wolfe went through these in detail, questioning whether they showed evidence that busking had been, is being, or is likely to cause ‘undue nuisance’. Camden’s scheme exempts certain groups and activities, including, for instance, morris dancers and Hare Krishna drummers. He pointed out that most entries on the log provided unsatisfactory information to be able to reach any conclusion about ‘undue nuisance’, and that one of the complaints was about morris dancers, and so won’t be resolved, and others spoke of ‘drummers’ which may well have been the exempt Krishnas given the absence of any other info.

He spoke at length about possible absurd scenarios raised by the rules. ‘Busking’ is defined as ‘provision of entertainment in the street’ (not necessarily for gain), so he gave example of someone singing a song on a sunny day on the way to work. If singing to himself, he is free to carry on, but if a fellow pedestrian starts enjoying the song and is entertained by it, then the singer starts to commit a criminal offence, and would have to either stop singing, or ask the other person to go away. A similar scene might be a young lad singing and playing the guitar in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. No problem there, and no licence required. As he’s particularly talented though, he draws a small crowd. He’s now become a criminal! Mr. Wolfe pointed out that under the human rights convention it was imperative for any criminal transgression to be “sufficiently foreseeable” which clearly it was not.

Although, Camden of course said they wouldn’t enforce the law in that situation, and a judge wouldn’t convict even if they did, the obvious response from the challengers is, why make it law then?

In terms of human rights, the argument is whether the restrictions are proportionate, respond to a pressing need, and that no less restrictive means are available to control the problem.

Camden claimed that it’s not over-restrictive because people can still busk in the rest of the country!

Mr. Wolfe referred to case law to show that supervision should be strict over ANY restriction, and that just because SOME singers MAY have caused genuine NUISANCE in a certain AREA at a PARTICULAR TIME, this couldn’t give rise to a restriction on ALL singers throughout the whole Borough at all times.

Camden stuck by their complaints log to show a ‘pressing need’, and they claimed other laws were not adequate to combat problems.

Mr. Wolfe pointed out that “less restrictive means” didn’t necessarily mean other already available law, and that Camden had framed bad legislation which could be rewritten to be far less restrictive. He asked also why the complaint log hadn’t contained an “action taken” column. This might have provided further evidence, but its absence suggested Camden may have actually breached an existing Section 79 requirement to respond to complaints, instead writing new legislation that may have been entirely unnecessary.

The hearing finished at around 3.30 on the Friday, and Mrs. Justice Patterson said she had plenty to ponder, was away the following week, and so would not be able to hand-down her verdict until this week.

This morning, the High court delivered its verdict backing the Council’s new policy. Jonny’s solicitors will lodge an appeal.

Statement by the Keep Streets Live Campaign:

“The generous support of many hundreds of people enabled to bring an historic High court challenge against Camden’s decision to introduce compulsory licenses for any person wishing to sing or play music in a public space within the borough.

We believe that the scheme is too wide in its definition of busking, that it has been introduced in response to inadequate evidence, to apply across the entire geographical area of the borough, and that it is disproportionate for the purposes of the Human Rights Act by interfering with the right to Freedom of Expression in a way which is neither necessary nor proportionate.

In the light of these points, which were convincingly argued in the High Court, we are disappointed that Mrs. Justice Patterson has seemingly taken at face value Camden’s argument that people making music on the streets have a low level of protection under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, and has ruled that Camden’s sceme is necessary, proportionate and lawful.

We profoundly disagree with her judgement and will now seek to have this case heard by the Court of Appeal and to ask Camden not to enforce their policy unitl the case is heard by a higher court.

Informal and spontaneous performances of music are a vital part of Camden’s rich and diverse cultural heritage and need to be protected. Under Camden’s policy, even singing a protest song without a licence could be a criminal offence. From our perspective this makes the excessive interference with Article 10 rights clear and unambiguous. In a democratic society, singing in the streets should never be a potential criminal offence.

On behalf of the Keep Streets Live campaign I would like to re-iterate our desire to work alongside Camden Council and residents to address their genuine concerns and to develop a collaborative ‘best practice’ guide for busking, if they will withdraw their contentious policy.

In Liverpool, which like Camden, is a city famous for music and grassroots culture, we are working alongside the local council to develop practical guidance for street entertainment that works for all parties.

We invite Camden to learn from this approach and work with us, and not against us.”