Tag Archives: Law

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


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.”



High Court set for challenge to Camden anti-busking law

Some good news!

As posted previously, despite celebrity backing for a campaign by professional busker Jonny Walker, Camden council went ahead and voted in a new law introducing a licensing system with draconian penalties, which will effectively ban any spontaneous music in its streets.

The law was due to come into force from tomorrow, 1st Feb, but after raising money by crowd-sourcing on indiegogo, Jonny has managed to launch a legal challenge which will be heard in the High Court at the end of February, together with an undertaking that the new rules will not be enforced until after the judgement (if at all).

With the possibility not only of radically changing the nature of Camden for ever, but also acting as a springboard for a similar crackdown in public areas throughout the UK, surely this new legislation is of serious public interest. But even before the next round of legal aid cuts takes effect, the sad fact remains that a hearing of this sort can only be safely undertaken by the rich, and the council can threaten to rack up its legal costs to dissuade and scare off legitimate challenges.

However, Jonny first went to court to ask for “protected costs” and the judge has agreed to limit any claim against him to just £7500. With just a couple of days to go, the indiegogo campaign has so far attracted around £7000, so after costs and indiegogo commissions, a good part of the fighting fund is in place, and a last push for donations may yet clinch it.

The hope is of course that Jonny will win the case, forcing Camden to rethink its approach. In which case, the funds raised will go towards establishing good practice forums to find sensible solutions to issues raised by residents, as well as training for young musicians.

The case will be heard on the 27th and 28th February – watch this space and Jonny’s site for updates and news then.

Keep Streets Live Campaign

In the face of new laws and controls on what you can and can’t do on public streets, and the draconian ‘busking licence’ scheme being introduced in Camden next month, I’ve just finished a crowd-funding campaign video for the ‘Keep Streets Live’ Campaign.

Camden Labour council have introduced a new law which from Feb 1st 2014 will make music performance on the street illegal without a council licence. Licences have to be applied for, by supplying full ID details, several days and even weeks ahead of time, and a range of fees are payable. If you sing or play an instrument in Camden streets without a licence, you will be liable to a £1000 fine, and any instruments may be seized and sold by the council if you haven’t paid up in 28 days.

Jonny Walker, founder of ASAP, the Association of Street Artists and Performers, has campaigned against this law from the outset, attending council meetings, collecting more than 6000 signatures in a petition, trying to engage with residents, police, and law-makers, and taking part in every stage of the consultation. He also gained support from musical and comedy celebrities including Billy Bragg, Bill Bailey, Mark Thomas, Jon Gomm, and others.

However, despite strong opposition from Lib-Dem, Conservative, and Green councillors, and a deputation from the Musicians’ Union, this draconian bill was voted through by the Labour majority.

So now, Jonny has secured the services of leading human rights lawyers, Leigh Day, who are challenging the law in court. If that fails, there will be a campaign on the streets to undermine the law, make it unworkable, and embarrass the council.

Seeing that this legislation has national implications way beyond Camden, as part of the ever-increasing privatisation of the public realm, Jonny has set up the ‘Keep Streets Live’ Campaign, and is seeking crowd-sourced funding to seek support.

This 3 minute film hears from a range of voices, and calls out for donations via the crowd-funding site ‘Indiegogo’.

Within hours of posting the film, I’ve been sent two related links – film of a London busker being moved on by police, and a news report of a Welsh busker being banned from Cardiff under threat of a £5000 fine.

As more and more restrictions and controls strangle any remaining freedoms in public places, and as new developments turn previously public land into pseudo-private areas with rules strictly governing behaviour, anyone not there to spend money is made unwelcome in our city streets, so it’s no wonder the ‘high street’ is dying when it has little or nothing more to offer than on-line or out-of-town shopping

Donate to the campaign at http://indiegogo.com/projects/keep-streets-live-campaign

See film of the great Camden Celebrity Busk at https://indyrikki.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/video-of-camden-celebrity-busk-against-proposed-licensing-and-instrument-seizures/

Video of Camden Celebrity Busk against proposed licensing and instrument seizures

Camden Council looks set to introduce new controls on buskers in the area, with a pay-to-play licence scheme, and severe penalties of up to £1000 and even instrument seizure and sale.

Busker and campaigner, Jonny Walker, (http://keepstreetslive.com) has been working with comedy activist Mark Thomas (100 Acts of Minor Dissent), and after forming the Citizens’ Kazoo Orchestra, they introduced an array of celebrity buskers in Camden High Street on 24th Oct 2013.

The line-up featured comedian/musician Bill Bailey, protest-singer Billy Bragg, and virtuoso guitarist Jon Gomm, and was compered by Mark Thomas. Jonny Walker explained the Labour Council proposals, spoke movingly of his own experiences as a busker, the connection to the homeless and the disadvantage, and the subterfuge of Camden Council (who tried to prevent him addressing their Cabinet meeting, and failed to respond to Freedom of Information requests.

A BBC film crew was in attendance, and Mark and Jonny managed to hijack their interview with Councillor Abdul Hai. After repeatedly being asked, he eventually and reluctantly agreed to meet with them before the next Council meeting.

This short video tries to capture the spirit of that day, which was blessed by Indian Summer-like weather.

For a full write-up and some photos, see https://indyrikki.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/camden-council-on-the-run-over-draconian-anti-busking-laws/