Boris v Democracy Village Court ReportTagged as: afghanistan anti-militarism democracy_village iran iraq parliament_square peace socpa
On Mon Jun 14 in the High Court began the trial of the Mayor of London claiming repossession of Parliament Square from Democracy Village. This prime piece of real estate had been seized from the enemy class on Mayday, and a Village of over thirty tents, kitchen facilities, compost toilet and peace garden established over the course of the next six weeks.
From the outset, the villagers declared they would stay until all soldiers had come back home from Afghanistan. Villagers have regularly sallied forth to perform direct actions including spectacular banner drops from Big Ben, the roof of Westminster Abbey and, on our first date in court, even from the roof of the Royal Courts of Justice!
The Judge has ruled against arguments that Boris's GLA don't actually have the right to claim a possession order as they are only managers on behalf of the current owner, the Queen, who was "given" the land by Government in the GLA Act of 1999. Tony Benn will appear in court for the defence on Monday afternoon, and supporters are urged to attend the High court from 2pm on Monday as there will be lots of statements from the defendants. The case is likely to carry on at least a couple more days.
Boris Johnson vs Democracy
Boris faced 19 named defendants, among them Brian Haw, plus Persons unknown who had entered or remained without the consent of the GLA. From the very first Bank Holiday weekend, our tents were served with notices of the Mayor’s bye-laws. Unless you’ve filled in a form, attached a risk assessment, obtained public liability insurance and gained the Mayor’s explicit written authorization, you’re not allowed?to assemble or make a speech in any part of Parliament Square. It goes without saying that Election Meltdown, organisers of the original Mayday Carnival which occupied the Square, never asked anyone’s permission for any of their lawful and popular activities. These included erecting a 30-foot maypole and hanging New Labour class traitors from a large gibbet.
One of the first defiant acts of the Grassroots Government was to celebrate its inauguration by planting a young oak sapling in the very centre of the Square. This has since become the centrepiece of a beautiful garden of shrubs, herbs, flowers and vegetables. According to Boris’ minions, this amounts to £50,000 worth of criminal damage, the costs of digging up the oak tree and replanting the grass. The consensus view of the villagers is that the true criminal damage is the death and destruction wrought by illegal and inhuman wars.
Bindmans, the solicitors, represented the first named named defendant, Rebecca Hall, a long-standing villager, but several others stood up to represent themselves. Our first line of defence was that the Mayor could not claim repossession because he does not own the land – the Queen does! Boris’ men had a real headache, having to argue that effectively any tenant farmer, steward or estate manager had the right to take possession of land they were occupying even if that meant evicting the titleholder. Boris explicitly claimed he has the power to evict the queen from Parliament Square if he so chose. His minions argued that, whatever the law said, the fact that the Mayor had erected a fence for reseeding the grass back in October 2007 implied he had control of the Square, and therefore possession. So the queen can be ousted by her gardener! It also implies, what’s to stop us from putting up fences and saying it’s ours!
The main line of argument of the claimants is that Boris is a stalwart upholder of democracy and he fears that while a minority is camped on Parliament Square this will deter and prevent other demonstrations by the majority. The Square has a long and illustrious history as a site of protest, and as a tourist attraction. Supposedly, the presence of the village undermines this. Boris’ minions claim the Heritage wardens have been counting far fewer visitors than usual – though they can’t tell us how these estimates are arrived at. It doesn’t ring true with the experience of most villagers, who generally interact and chat with dozens of people everyday, tourists and visitors who are very curious to find out what is going on, and then almost always supportive. As far as demos go, the Village arranged plenty of space for the large-scale demonstration by the British Tamil forum on May 18, when well over a thousand men, women and children were spread around the square to commemorate the anniversary of genocide. Also on the Square on May 22, villagers held a tense but eventually fairly amicable exchange with members of March for England who had been intending to parade with the English Defence league. All of this is democracy in action.
Boris’ main witness, Simon Grinter, official manager of Parliament Square gardens, declared in his statement that the Welcome desk, a table laden with leaflets and info for visitors, acts as a ‘control’ point of entry to the Square. This despite the fact that it is possible to walk onto the Square from all four corners. Under cross examination by all the unrepresented defendants on Jun 17, Grinter was forced to admit that there was no disabled access to the Square at all; that there isn’t even a green man crossing, let alone a zebra crossing to get over to the Square; parents with children, or the elderly have to brave at least three lanes of busy traffic to get across at red lights. On the south side of the Square, some paving stones are so cracked and neglected they constitute a hazard.
Grinter has also let slip that that the first step Boris will take should his bailiffs manage to evict us is once again to fence off the entire Square ‘to reseed the grass’. No demonstrations will be allowed there for weeks on end. The villagers’ response to this has been to start reseeding the grass ourselves already, operating patch by patch. This is proving immeasurably cheaper, since it’s being done for love not money. In contrast to Boris, we’re insisting on unfettered public access. In most places, the grass is in perfectly good order. We’ll be exercising our rights there until the troops come home.
Clearly from the outset, Mr Justice Williams was prepared to set aside all precedent on feudal property law to help Boris reestablish his grip on the Square, and indeed ruled to that effect on Weds June 16, granting him jurisdiction to claim repossession. So, even though Boris is not the titleholder, the judge has ruled (without yet giving his full reasons) that Boris does have the right to bring the case - this is a potentially dangerous precedent for feudal property owners.
The Villagers rallied behind the moving declaration made by guerrilla gardener Simon Moore, invoking the Diggers, English Revolutionaries of 1649. Approaching the bench, he respectfully suggested that property was possessed by theft and murder. The Earth, he said, is a common treasury for all. No man has any right to buy and sell the Earth for private gain. Sir, he challenged Mr Justice Willams, ‘you would do a service for humankind to admit that.’
The case for the defence will begin on Mon Jun 21 at 2pm in the High Court, the Strand, and Tony Benn will take the stand for the defence, along with statements of defence from many of the unrepresented defendants. So, Monday afternoon is highly recommended for supporters to attend.
On Tuesday, much of the case will focus on Brian Haw and whether and by how much his protest has encroached on the GLA's turf. The democracy village will have a skeleton crew in court as they are focussing on a day of action against the cuts.
In theory, there will be a judgement on Wednesday, but with all the witness statements, and then further legal arguments about a possible injunction, insiders are suggesting it is more likely to extend through the week.
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