legal attacks on protest camps - act nowTagged as: brian_haw free_spaces global_war_on_camping parliament_square prasra prsr_act social_struggles socpa trafalgar_square
Neighbourhoods: trafalgar_square westminster
yesterday, the 'boris' fences came down in parliament square. unfortunately it wasn't due to popular uprising. rather, it was part of the continued attack on protest, as a new swathe of laws and bye-laws criminalise the right to 24-hour protest. among the moves, the GLA placed a discreet notice in the evening standard last week announcing their intention to enforce new bye-laws which will dramatically curtail protest in trafalgar square, and potentially criminalise peaceful assemblies. there is time under the process to make your views heard. see below.
evening standard pic sourced from sturdyblog (linked below)
our grubby politicians hate being harrangued as they go to and from westminster. they hate being confronted with the truth about the horrendous legacy of depleted uranium used in the illegal bombing of innocent women and children in iraq. they hate being reminded of how our taxes could be better used to avoid public service cuts if only they weren't spent on the military, on corporate welfare, and even on their own dodgy expenses.
so for ten years, the suits have asked whether anything can be done to rid their doorstep of brian haw and other protestors. over that decade, they've tried new restrictions and new laws, but each time, the courts have sided with protestors, and the right to peaceful protest has been favoured over any inconvenience to the conscience of the slimy, PR-obsessed vermin that inhabit westminster.
so, while the square was fenced off for 18 months (the official lie being to carry out essential repair work, but the truth clearly to prevent any repeat of the 'democracy village' encampment of 2010), the PR machine worked hard to come up with a new ploy, and the self-serving hypocrites of our unelected and much-hated government have come up with a beauty - the PRASRA law - that came into effect in december.
the rationale behind the new law is that of course the right to protest is an essential and a welcome part of our wonderful democracy, but that some people abuse that right and spoil it for others, by using megaphones or amplifiers so that they can be heard, or by hanging around for more than a few hours at a time so that their protest can be continually seen. these sorts of protestors will now be criminalised. their megaphones can be seized by force, their tents can be stolen, they can be directed to leave the square, they can be fined, injuncted to stay out of the area, and ultimately put in prison. oh, and council officials can do all this shit, as well as police.
but the right to protest remains intact, and to prove it, the SOCPA restrictions from 2005 (requiring police authorisation for protests near parliament) will be repealed next month (really this time - after many previous broken promises).
while the new law addresses the problems that the politicians had with brian haw's protest vigil, it was also drawn up at the time the new 'occupy' movement has grown worldwide, with its trend to protest using urban encampments, general assemblies, and 24-hour protest villages, all designed to encourage attention, creativity, alternative debate, education, and peaceful but uncompromising challenge to the establishment.
so, on the back of PRASRA (which has a very narrow remit of parliament square alone), there has been a mad rush to shore up parliamentary defences against any other local 'occupations', in the UK arm of what i call GWOC, the 'global war on camping'.
in its consultation notes over proposed new bye-laws, westminster council referred directly to the 'occupation' movement, stating its fears that protestors might try to set up camp in westminster abbey grounds, or other local green spaces and squares. their new bye-laws, very similar to the PRASRA rules, criminalise amplifiers and tents (or in fact, anything designed to assist staying overnight). next, the department of culture (which oversees the royal parks), brought in a similar consultation in preparation for introducing the same bye-laws to cover st. james, and other nearby parks. and finally the GLA has followed the same route, this time affecting trafalgar square and the bits of parliament square not covered by PRASRA.
while it was going through committee stages, there were serious reservations from lawyers about PRASRA, and the new law faced an immediate judicial challenge in the high court, after maria gallestegui managed to gain an injunction against westminster council to stop them from removing the tent she needs to aid her overnight stays while protesting outside parliament under the 'peace strike' banner. it is highly unusual for a new government law to be judicially challenged BEFORE its use, and it's great work by maria and her lawyers to have managed to do so.
the final review of that case will occur in a few weeks, but even at the exact time maria's injunction was being argued out in court, westminster were preparing a press notice, and a large team of police were being briefed prior to a raid that same night to remove all other tents from the square. this left brian haw's peace campaign camp (which still continues its 24/7 vigil despite brian's sad death last year), with no shelter in freezing conditions. police also illegally seized private legal correspondence, as well as camping seats and umbrellas!
both protest camps have been using boris's fences to hang banners, but early on sunday morning workers arrived to take them down, thus further diminishing the power and visibility of the peaceful vigils. the security personnel who were manning the square for those 18 months (at enormous cost to the public), have been replaced by a van-full of police, with engine constantly running, on the look out for dangerous campers, and ready to use the 'reasonable force' authorised by PRASRA to snatch protest equipment and remove protestors (while still defending and of course facilitating the right to protest).
so what can YOU do?
as described in my previous articles (linked below), westminster, the culture dept, and the GLA consultations are now all closed. hopefully, some of you will have expressed yourselves in these exercises.
within one week of the GLA's consultation end date, a small notice appeared in the back pages of the evening standard newspaper, outlining the next stage. according to this, following on from the consultation, the GLA is going ahead with the bye-laws, presenting them to the dept of culture at the end of january, and after a final objection period of one month, they will be ready to come into law (expected early in march).
if you'd like to object to the bye-laws, you are invited to do so by writing an email to Carl.Schnackenberg@Culture.gsi.gov.uk. at the deparment of culture, and any such objections have to be in by 29th february.
if you read through the notes on the GLA site, you'll see that they are fully expecting legal challenges to the new bye-laws, but such is their concern to do their bit in the 'global war on camping' (GWOC), that they're going ahead anyway, even before maria's PRASRA challenge (directly related) is heard.
because under the new bye-laws, they are intending to give powers of seizure (and therefore the right to use force) to heritage wardens and other council and private employees, they are printing up new 'warrant cards' for identification purposes, all at considerable public cost and before PRASRA challenges are heard. this might be something you'd want to bring up in your email.
also, having 'consulted', it is not clear when or where the results of that consultation will be published. this might be something to ask mr schnackenberg too.
then there are the more general and important issues of free speech, use of public space, right to protest, and criminalisation of dissent. all these might be appropriate to refer to.
please spread the word, feel free to republish this article (except for profit, in which case contact me first), and let the GLA and the government know there is genuine concern and resistance to these further attacks on liberty.
and if all that fails, get ready for an act of mass civil disobedience to highlight and challenge the new law.
my previous indymedia reports:
assault on protest part one http://london.indymedia.org/articles/11434
assault on protest part two http://london.indymedia.org/articles/11456
high court hearing and parl sq raid http://london.indymedia.org/articles/11468
end of consultations http://london.indymedia.org/articles/11516
PRASRA law http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/13/contents/enacted/data.htm
westminster bye-laws consultation http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/transportandstreets/strategy/parliament-square-proposed-byelaws/
dept of culture, parks bye-laws consultation http://www.culture.gov.uk/consultations/8710.aspx
GLA squares consultation http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/mayor/mayoral-decisions/md923
GLA bye-laws confirmation (with objection address) http://www.london.gov.uk/consultation/confirmation-byelaws-trafalgar-square-and-parliament-square-garden
thanks to alex sturdyblogger for the pic of the evening standard ad http://sturdyblog.wordpress.com/about/
Contact email: rikkiindymedia(At)gmail[dot]com