Critical Mass win legal victory

IssueJuly to August 2006
Feature by Albert Beale

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 lawful because no-one had come forward as an organiser to notify a route to the police.
    The result of the threat was that there continued to be no notification - after all, CM rides genuinely don't have any organisers - and the following month saw a record turnout of over a thousand riders. (See the November and December 2005 PNs.) A subsequent judicial review application, in the name of one of the regular participants, led to the recent ruling.

Common and customary

The relief was not only because of the verdict as such, but because many CMers were worried that using legal tactics might backfire. As things had stood, the police would probably have continued their policy of not trying to control an event that is, ultimately, unpoliceable without much more trouble for the police than they would want. But if the case had been lost, some participants might have been deterred, and the police might have felt compelled to try to carry out their threats.
    The crux of the court victory was a recognition that, after more than 12 years, the monthly event was one which “is commonly or customarily held”, and hence it is covered by a section of the 1986 Public Order Act which excuses such events from the advance notice requirement.