Tag Archives: policing

Don’t Attack Syria – London protest pics

For this protest, called by the Stop the War Coalition with only a couple of days’ notice, police had cordoned off the southbound carriageway of Whitehall, and StWC had set up a small stage in front of Downing Street. Similar gatherings were taking place, we were told, in 30 towns and cities across the UK.

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The protest, called for midday, continued to grow over the next couple of hours as a variety of speakers took the stage, and I’d estimate at least 2,000 attended in all.

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After John Rees spoke for the coalition, the first big celeb speaker, dressed in a very pricey-looking grey winter coat, was Brian Eno, who spoke from the heart about the illogicality of a military “solution”.

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After a typically rousing effort from Owen Jones, we heard from Green deputy, Dr. Shahrar Ali, and then Sabby Dahlu from ‘Stand Up Against Racism’, who spoke passionately about the right-wing media demonisation of Muslims, and the resulting rise in racist attacks.

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A heartfelt and honest speech from the massively talented actor Mark Rylance, was followed by well-honed oration from George Galloway.

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Next on was Tariq Ali, who used to write regularly in the Guardian, but, in talking about the media frenzy over Corbyn, Paris, and a Syria attack, admitted he can no longer bear to read it. His speech reminded us of the long-standing plan, exposed many years ago by ex-NATO supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, to “take out” a series of countries in the Middle East, including Syria. This story was backed up recently by the revelation from French Foreign Affairs minister, Roland Dumas, that UK officials confessed to “preparing something”, an organised invasion of rebels into Syria, more than two years ago.

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By 1.30, with the south carriageway pen full to overflowing, police had given up trying to persuade protesters outside Downing Street to move over the road, and with the pavement full there too, some folk decided to invade the north carriageway and completely block the road.

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Sergeant Dearden is often seen at protests carrying out surveillance in his National Domestic Extremist Unit role, but on this occasion he was in charge of police operations and wearing Inspector epaulettes. After sending in some Police Liaison Officers to gather intelligence and try persuasion, he then brought in some TSG officers to push people off the road and allow some traffic through.

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However, demonstrators were persistent, and staged a sit-down, at which point, police closed off the carriageway at Parliament Square, where they listened to the final speaker, Dianne Abbott, who had been delayed travelling, as she brought greetings of solidarity from the Labour leadership.

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As the protest pen cleared, and traffic began to pass south, a little after 2.30, people began to drift away from the sit-down, and cleared the road by about 2.45.

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There is another protest planned at Parliament for 6pm on Tuesday IF the government announces a vote to take place on Wednesday. Check stopwar.org.uk for new information on this.

UPDATE – announcement HAS been made, so Wednesday debate, and emergency protest at Parliament 6pm Tuesday 1st August

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Occupy Murdoch – Day One

With more than fifteen hundred people signed up to the Facebook page, hopes were high for a good turn-out this morning. Truth be told, the dozen or so protesters were completely outnumbered by police, security and journalists, as they gathered at London Bridge this morning.

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While the half dozen blue-tabarded ‘Police Liaison Officers’ mingled with the activists trying to gain intel as they do, a Forward Intelligence Team was sightseeing from a distance, pointing their video camera at the gathered journalists, having filmed the Occupiers from every angle.

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There were also security staff (the men in black) from the Sun offices, and other unknown undercovers watching from a distance.

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After a photo-call, the small group set off for the ‘mini-shard’ Sun HQ where again they posed for pics and organiser, Donnachadh McCarthy, gave a short speech, before delivering their ‘arrest warrant’ for Mr Murdoch.

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Opposite the modern Shard entrance to London Bridge station is a small area where works are in progress behind blue fencing. There’s not much through footfall here, and there are some benches to sit on, making an ideal spot for the week-long occupation.

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Soon, banners and posters were fixed on the fence, a symbolic tent and a children’s play pen were set down, and the first speaker, Occupy’s George Barda turned up.

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The full week’s activities are up on the web page, along with ideas for solidarity actions for those that want to support but can’t make it to London Bridge.

The organisers believe a civil injunction will be fast-tracked to try to move them off the land, and a call-out for peaceful resistance will no doubt go out on their twitter feed when that happens.

The biggest event of the week will most likely be on Saturday, but in the meantime there are some fab speakers and some excellent cabaret lined up, along with daily assemblies.

July Critical Mass – 2nd anniversary of mass arrest of 182 cyclists

Last Friday, Critical Mass rode to the Olympic Park in Stratford to mark the 2nd anniversary of the mass arrest that took place on the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

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Background:

On Friday 27th July 2012, 182 cyclists attending the customary Critical Mass bicycle ride were arrested in East London for breaching conditions imposed under the Public Order Act prohibiting them from riding anywhere north of the River Thames.

The conditions were imposed by the Met in order to prevent any attempt to protest near the Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2012 games. Despite a massive police operation that saw huge disruption to ordinary Londoners as riot police closed several London road bridges, a couple of hundred cyclists did eventually make it ‘en masse’ to Stratford, where two groups were kettled and the mass arrests ocurred.

Bicycles were loaded on to buses, and the arrestees were transferred to distant processing centres in Croydon and further afield in Sussex. Some were thrown out (after many hours without food or water) in the middle of the night, with little or no public transport available, and they were given chits to collect their bikes from other centres at a later time. There were many reports about the police detention that conveyed a sense that the operation was simply extra-judicial punishment for daring to challenge the corporate Olympic machine.

As I reported at the time, on the now defunct london indymedia, the legal framework for such wide-ranging conditions and subsequent police actions seemed shaky, and this was borne out by the fact that only nine cyclists were ever taken to court, with just five convicted of breaching public order conditions, and two of those overturned on appeal. At least a hundred of those detained are in the process of suing the Police over the operation.

One interesting revelation emerging from the trials was the first admission by the Met that ‘Police Liaison Officers’ (PLOs – the “friendly, smiley” ones in baby-blue tabards often seen at protests nowadays) have a defined operational intelligence-gathering role. Some of the PLOs had also been riding undercover on the previous month’s Critical Mass.

So, although Forward Intelligence (FIT) Teams and photographers are less often seen at events, the ubiquitous PLOs have taken over much of their role, and are often to be found wandering through a protest, accessing areas that would have been difficult for FITs, engaging with activists using psychological techniques to gain information, and often caught listening in on conversations.

The ride (25th July 2014):

To mark the 2nd anniversary of the unlawful mass arrest, the July London Critical Mass bicycle ride headed East, and hundreds of cyclists rode through Whitechapel, and Mile End, over the Bow flyover, and past the spot where police had formed the largest kettle, eventually riding on to the Olympic park.

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With powerful sound systems pumping beats, there was a party atmosphere under a dramatic sunset, but after some resting and partying, a several-hundred strong group set off again towards the iconic velodrome, where after carrying bikes up the stairs, they circled the building on the upper walkway.

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The velodrome itself is now surrounded by a fast open air bike road and track circuit, which snakes around a BMX and mountain biking park. Secured from public use by waist-high fencing, it wasn’t long before a hundred or more cyclists were mischievously shooting round these tracks. A couple of security folk looked on helplessly, and one of them complained loudly that the cyclists looked like a bunch of “weird squatters”, that they weren’t supposed to be there without paying, and that she was therefore calling the police. Cyclists tried to point out that Londoners HAD paid rather a lot of money for these facilities, but the velodrome is now a private commercial concern charging upwards of £30 for ‘taster sessions”!

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After about twenty minutes, the police arrived – one plod on foot, and a community support officer on a bike – without the corporate power of the IOC (International Olympics Committee) behind the operation, it seems the Met didn’t regard this year’s incursion as such a high priority 🙂

It was now dark and the remaining mass – still a couple of hundred in number – were ready to return to London. Near Mile End, there was an unfortunate incident when a rider came off his bike and, not wearing a helmet, landed badly, losing consciousness. Some cyclists stayed with him and sought medical attention, while the rest of the ride continued on so as not to crowd or gawk.

By the time the got back to Brick Lane it was way past 10pm – a later finish than usual for the ride – and began to disperse.

Although I can understand the Mass wanting to mark this anniversary, I couldn’t help thinking it was ironic that in a way, once again, corporate sport had distracted people from World politics – huge sporting events have become modern weapons of mass distraction. Without the Olympic mass arrest, I feel sure that last week’s ride would instead have paid a visit to the Israeli Embassy, and maybe an arms company or the BBC, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

29th June 2014 DPAC occupation at Westminster Abbey

Please note: This event was Saturday 28th June, not 29th. I won’t correct the title because there are now a load of links to it.

DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) staged a dramatic protest on Saturday at Westminster Abbey. They were highlighting the planned abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and the terrible consequences such cuts would have on the lives of disabled people who gain some little freedom from being able to afford personal carers and who would otherwise end up in institutions.

The occupation was aided by UK Uncut and the Occupy movement, and was very nearly successful in its aim to establish a camp.

However, despite pleas from the protesters, the Dean of Westminster instructed police to confiscate tents and other equipment vital to the safety and well-being of the disabled activists, and he refused to communicate or negotiate directly with any organisers.

After a few hours, a meeting was held on site and a consensus reached, that although many of the supporters were ready to continue the occupation, the safety and comfort of more vulnerable colleagues was not guaranteed without the planned shelter, cooking, and toilet facilities, and so everyone agreed to leave together in solidarity.

The protest was attended by almost 200 police, who outnumbered the activists by at least 3 to 1. Given that the protest was completely peaceful other than two minor scuffles when police used force to prevent additional supporters from coming into the area, this certainly seemed to be more a political show of force than any proportionate response.

When the police threatened people with arrest for ‘criminal trespass’ they said the protesters were stopping the Abbey from going about its ‘normal business’. I received a tweet from @lightacandleOTM that summed it up perfectly – isn’t the normal business of the church to stand up for the persecuted?

 

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.”

 

Worldwide March Against Corruption – London pics and report

Several hundred people marched across London yesterday afternoon as part of worldwide events in UK, Canada, US, Australia, Nepal, and the Netherlands.

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The march was called globally via a website that calls for non-violent direct action and an awareness campaign against corruption in governance and public policy, highlighting the corrupting influence of money and special interests. The site associates itself with the March Against Monsanto which took place last year, and seems to be loosely affiliated with the ‘anonymous’ and ‘occupy’ movements.

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The individual London march was called on Facebook by “Megaphone Mitch”/”Megafone Mitch” whose internet presence appears limited to the last few during which he has promoted similar events.

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Interestingly, a journalist contact has informed me that Mitch admits to being an ex-cop, and he certainly doesn’t seem to be well-known in any grassroots movements. This information isn’t intended to imply anything particularly negative, but it is notable that someone with little ‘track record’ can bring together hundreds of protestors to various events just through a campaign of promotion on social media. While on the one hand this can be a good thing, it should also be an illustration how easy it is to manipulate social movements, especially in the context of recent history eg Ukraine, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, where immense manipulation has occurred on a far greater scale.

So at lunchtime yesterday, a few hundred people gathered at Trafalgar Square, and shortly after 1.30 they set off on what seemed to be a police-approved route (uncharacteristic of #anonymous protests that have in the past refused to comply with notification requirements). Mitch led with his megaphone from near the front of the march, and the whole event ran through the afternoon with precision timing. The only deviation from the plan was while passing Harvey Nicholls in Knightsbridge, twice in the afternoon, where a separate group protesting about fur sales at the store, were joined for a few minutes by the marchers, causing some panic by security staff and the closure of the doors.

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The rally outside the Ecuador embassy ended with the announcement that there was a message from Julian Assange – this was read out twice over the PA.

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Then Mitch rallied his gang and they set off to Whitehall and Parliament Square, with a brief stop and road blockade at Downing Street along the way.

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Policing throughout was fairly tolerant, closing off Whitehall, ignoring breaches of guide tapes and so on, but with plenty of back-up nearby, always in overall control.

Under Mitch’s guidance and megaphone leadership, the crowd arrived back at Parliament at the advertised time of 5pm. For about half an hour, the road in front of Parliament was closed to traffic. The only scuffle of the afternoon occurred when police attempted to grab a man for questioning after an incident in which someone’s phone was smashed in an altercation. The crowd wouldn’t give up the person the police wanted to speak to, and twice the cops had to retreat from the crowd despite robust attempts to pull him out.

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More police arrived and, outnumbering the remaining crowd, they cleared the road, mostly through persuasion but backed by heavy numbers, and some singing, chanting, and rap video-making went on, while lines of police kept the crowd off the road, as numbers dwindled into the night.

Organised by unknown people, attracting a motley bunch, which seemed to include a range of genuine protest groups and all ages as well as unfortunately some far-right factions, watched by shadowy figures on the edges, this was a very weird event. In terms of protest, it suffered from having an unfocussed message, but the ‘anonymous’ brand was well represented. I had my own suspicions that some people there were not all they seemed, and I was not alone in this – there was quite a lot of suspicion and paranoia around.

At the start and at the end of the march, a red ‘Justitia’ battle-bus circled around, beeping its horn and advertising the ‘force4justice.co.uk’ website. This seems to be a slightly right-wing but libertarian outfit, pushing for changes in the judiciary system and publicising the incarceration of an elderly man named Norman Scarth, who was caught recording a secret trial. People cheered as the bus passed by, and a couple of well-dressed gentlemen waved from the upper deck. Another curiosity in a curious afternoon.

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Camden Council in the dock over busking

As reported previously, Camden Council have drafted a licensing scheme for buskers, which is far-ranging and draconian. It wass due to take effect on Feb 1st, but campaigners launched a legal challenge in the High Court, postponing implementation of the new legislation until its legality is scrutinised. The hearing began today and is expected to conclude tomorrow.

I will write a full report of the hearing at the weekend, but in the meantime, here are my notes from today.

Professional busker Jonny Walker has set up a campaign organisation “Keep Streets Live” and has raised several thousand pounds towards the legal costs through a crowd-funding campaign. Leading human rights lawyers, Leigh Day, have secured the service of Queen’s Council David Wolfe, and he laid out the arguments against the new legislation this morning.

Full report later, but my feeling is not good. The judge, Mrs. Justice Patterson, seemed to continually question QC Wolfe, sometimes saying she was asking the questions she believed that Camden’s lawyers would want to ask. Later after lunch, Clive Sheldon QC spoke for Camden, and by contrast, the judge seemed to be helping him frame his arguments and even finish off his sentences for him. Now I’m not saying the judge was nobbled, bent, or in receipt of brown envelopes, not least because to do so may well be contempt of court or libellous, but I was certainly surprised and uneasy at what appeared to me to be a very different approach to dealing with the two opposing barristers.

Finally, while discussing how long the two sides would need to complete their arguments tomorrow, the judge said that she was aware that Camden were anxious to begin implementing their rules, and she was hoping therefore to hand down judgement at the end of the day rather than make them wait.

What worried me about this concern was that if she were to judge in favour of Jonny Walker and the legal challenge, then obviously Camden aren’t going to be able to implement at all, so the time factor would only come into play if the judgement is in Camden’s favour.

Now, I’m definitely not saying that the judge has already made up her mind before hearing all the arguments, as again, that suggestion may well be some form of contempt, but I’m surprised how she’s so concerned about the timing, when it may turn out not to be an issue at all, because the whole scheme may be unlawful.

I’ll tweet the result tomorrow at around 4.30, but if were a betting man, I’d have to say I think she’ll find against the challenge.