Critical Mass Victory at the House of Lords

Tagged as: autonomous_spaces housing_transport repression_surveillance
Neighbourhoods: london

Since 1994, London cyclists have been gathering every single month to cycle, party and assert their right to the road - the famous Critical Mass.?

Amidst other police tactics aiming to break the d.i.y spirit of the event, the Police attempted to ban the ride in September 2005. The court case and obligatory appeals that ensued lasted for 3 years until the 26th of November 2008 when the Law Lords ruled in favour of London Critical Mass. A victory for London - but an unclear result for other Critical Masses around the country.

See report and photos of the Critical Mass on Friday 28th, three days after the Lords ruling.

The Critical Mass bicycle ride has been going on in London since 1994 - a monthly gathering of cyclist who cycle together through London with no planned route and no defined leaders or organisers.

In September 1995, the police effectively tried to ban Critical Mass by claiming it was an illegal procession, and that the organisers had to inform the police of the route ahead of the event. This is an exerpt from the leaflet they distributed on that occasion :

"...Police can impose conditions on processions, demonstrations and other assemblies, and participants render themselves liable to arrest if they fail to comply with those conditions. These cycle protests are not lawful because no organiser has provided police the with the necessary notification. Your participation in this event could render you liable to prosecution. Police policy in facilitating these events is currently under review..."

It may be difficult for the police to accept it, but it is a well known fact that Critical Mass has no set organisers. While some may print leaflets and others host a website, it's a spontaneous event ; people just show up on the last Friday of the month and ride together, anyone can go at the front and suggest itenaries. Claiming that Critical Mass is organised is like claiming that traffic jams are organised. By their letter, the police refused cyclist the status of 'traffic' - one of Critical Mass' aim being to show that cyclists are traffic and should be allowed to use the road as much as cars.

The October 2005 mass saw one of the biggest turnout ever in London - showing how many people care about Critical Mass, and that people would not let the police stop it. Soon after, Des Key and Friends of the Earth started a court case against the police.

The court case took several years and went up to the House of Lords before finishing, on the 26th of November 2008, ruling in favour of critical mass. The ruling stated that Critical Mass was customary, and therefore did not need to apply for permission, or to inform the police.

The ruling however suggests that Critical Mass is a procession - refusing the idea that cyclist are traffic. As such it is not clear how the ruling may be used in the future for people setting up new Critical Masses around the UK who will not be able to claim these are customary events.

Police has been a regular feature at Critical Mass for the past 3 or 4 years - occasionaly protecting cyclists from angry drivers, but always trying to manage the ride, shouting at people who tried to do it themselves and generally being intimidating towards people who showed any form of initiative. The police were trying to transform Critical Mass into something they could understand : an event where participants are sheepish and simply do as the organisers tell them to do.

It is unclear whether it is related to this judgment, the leaving of Ian Blair or other internal police matters, but the police has not been at Critical Mass for the past two months. Now that the judgement has ruled? in favor of Critical Mass, they have even less of a reason for showing up - and we are going to have to re-learn how to manage this event ourselves properly.