Civil Liberties

16 October 2006Feature

Stupid, repressive laws require creative and surreal responses. On 22 September, more than 100 “lone protesters” gathered simultaneously in London's Parliament Square in response to the ongoing criminalisation of protest within 1km of the Houses of Parliament - under provisions contained in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. In a bid to overwhelm the Metropolitan Police with paperwork, those involved had all applied - and received permission - for their individual protests. The…

1 July 2006Feature

There was a mood of celebration - and also relief - on the well attended Critical Mass cycle ride in central London on 30 June, following a High Court ruling a few days earlier that a police attempt to declare the event “unlawful” should have “had the benefit of sounder legal advice”.
Participants in the Central London ride last September - when they met on the South Bank at 6pm on the last Friday of the month as usual - were handed letters by the police saying that the event was not…

1 July 2006News

On 1 April 2006, two peace campaigners from Yorkshire were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). They face up to a year in prison, or a maximum #5,000 fine, after protesting against the law, sections of which criminalise trespass and remove the automatic right to peaceful demonstrations.

The two women, Helen John, 68, and Sylvia Boyes, 62, were arrested after walking 15 feet past the patrol line at Menwith Hill, a US military spy base in North Yorkshire…

16 June 2006Feature

Just before 3am on Tuesday 23 May, around 50 police swooped on Brian Haw and his supporters in Parliament Square. Their instructions were to remove most of the anti-war display.

They brought a lorry and freight container, and unceremoniously dumped placards, cuttings, models, religious items and donated artworks, in a crammed heap into it.
    Two supporters climbed on top of the container and held up the police until they were overpowered…

16 June 2006Feature

On 8 May, Brian Haw's exemption from the ban on unauthorised protest under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) came to an end.

The Home Office won an appeal against last year's High Court decision that the Act could not be applied retrospectively and Brian's protest has, in theory, been brought under police control.

Attempts at control

Despite media headlines to the effect that this would be the end of Brian's epic stand against this government's foreign…

3 June 2006Comment

Governmental attempts to soften up public opinion for an announcement of more nuclear power stations have their parallel in the nuclear industry itself.

The British Nuclear Group - they're the people who oversee the radioactive waste mountains at Windscale/Sellafield - are advertising for “environmental specialists” at salaries of up to #43,000 pa. Amongst the work needing doing is coming up with strategies for contaminated land. Dealing with contamination sounds worthy; but you…

3 June 2006Comment

It's been a rough few weeks for the Home Office. The furore over foreign criminals, followed by a row over the monitoring of newly released criminals on probation, a defeat over abuse of power in the Afghan hijackers case, and then, to cap it all, an ill judged remark over the number of illegal immigrants in Britain sparks a spat over immigration. Liz Norman reflects on how this catalogue of woes is being used to reinforce the ID card debate.

The government's response to the recent Home Office debacles has become all too predictable over the last nine years - promise new legislation, promise the repeal of the poor old Human Rights Act, and promise an ID card. This is a reactive government, not a proactive one.

The first two of these promises are easily dealt with; new legislation is likely to have little or no effect, and repeal of the Human Rights Act will still leave us subject to the European Convention on Human Rights…

16 May 2006Feature

Every Sunday afternoon, campaigners stage an open picnic on Parliament Square to plan ideas to subvert or test the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (section 132). SOCPA requires advance written police permission for demonstrations around parliament, thus criminalising spontaneous protest.

Dozens of people have been arrested since this law's inception last August (see PNs), but its operational enforcement appears related to the size of the demonstration and media…

1 April 2006News

In the early afternoon of Sunday 26 March, Brian Haw was standing with fellow campaigner Barbara Tucker when the police came by and decided that a crime was being committed. Barbara was wearing a pink sparkly banner that read “Bliar, war criminal” and was not keen to give her name and address for no good reason. This was enough to get her arrested under the new law banning unauthorised protest near parliament.

Brian Haw was then arrested on “suspicion of obstructing police” for…

1 April 2006News

On 16 March, Milan Rai, author, activist and founder of Justice Not Vengeance, went on trial for organising an unauthorised demonstration within the 1-km exclusion zone around parliament on 25 October 2005, contrary to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). If found guilty, Rai faces a fine of up to #3,000 and/or three months imprisonment.

The “demonstration” in question consisted of Milan and one other person, Maya Evans, reading the names of those who have died in the…

3 March 2006Comment

This occasional column is a continuation of the one I wrote for Nonviolent Action and it's timely to revisit an issue that arose at NvA.

I'm still smarting from the spiking of one of my columns because (as I recall) “it would cause offence to our American staff”. During the build-up to the invasion of Iraq I submitted a poem in place of prose. I hoped A hymn of hate to America might provoke a response. It did.

A challenging idea

The poem was…

3 March 2006Comment

The crisis over the Muhammad cartoons is not, despite appearances, primarily about free speech, or the prohibition on depicting the Prophet. The damage to community relations is enormous, but there is a real opportunity before us to try to strengthen connections between Muslims and non-Muslims.

How do we know that the non-Muslim European uproar is not really about free speech? Look at the differing reactions to the two big decisions of Flemming Rose, culture editor of the Danish…

16 February 2006Feature

The latest round of cases against people accused of defying London's “no-protest zone” began towards the end of January: eleven individuals were scheduled to appear in four separate trials. All had been charged originally under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) for being part of an “unauthorised demonstration”.

Under the new Act, anyone wishing to demonstrate within 1km of parliament must apply to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at least six days in advance or,…

3 February 2006Comment

It is a sad indictment of our so-called liberal democracy, and the ultimate irony of Tony Blair's constitutional reform agenda, that it is the unelected House of Lords who must stand up time and again protect our civil liberties, and the very foundations of British society. On the first day of the Report Stage, that's precisely what they did (again) with a triple salvo of amendments to the government's identity cards bill.

After months of campaigning and lobbying on this issue,…

1 February 2006News

The attempt by the Metropolitan Police to criminalise central London's monthly Critical Mass bike ride (see PN2467) faces legal action supported by Friends of the Earth's Rights & Justice Centre.

On 16 January, papers were filed in the High Court seeking a judicial review of the police's sudden attempt, last September, to make the 11-year-old tradition of a collective bike ride around central London subject to the Public Order Act. The rides had hitherto been tolerated…