On Wednesday 18 January 2012 in the High Court occupiers and many supporters, along with the City of London Corporation, were in court to hear the judgment in the case to evict the occupiers from land around St Paul's Cathedral. The occupiers claim that they have the right to protest; but the Corporation owns the land and (successfully) contended that the occupier's human rights are outweighed by other factors and the public interest.
The judge ruled in favour of the Corporation. The judge fully accepted the Corporation's case on all the substantive points and made clear that in his judgment, the presence of the tents is causing ‘various kinds of harm’, including to worshippers who use the cathedral and access to the highway. These harms, in the judge’s view, outweighed the interference with the occupiers’ Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (peaceful assembly) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge refused permission to appeal, agreeing with the Corporation’s argument that the appeal had no realistic prospect of success.
Sadly, the judgment is not unexpected. Whilst the judge did note that "No one has doubted, or could, the significance of the causes the Defendants promote, or the sincerity and passion with which they are doing this," from the perspective of the current legal system, this is irrelevant. What is also irrelevant from the perspective of the legal system are the “compellingly important” (in the words of Defendant George Barda) issues that are raised by the occupation - such as massive inequality, the destruction of the life support systems of this planet, the greed of the 1% at the expense of the 99%, and the growing democratic deficit.
Such issues, which are fundamentally about justice, are not for the court to consider. The court cannot adjudicate on the merits of the occupation.
This case highlights that the legal system is part of the problem – it is part of the ‘system’ we are seeking to radically change. The law itself is not neutral – we have inherited a legal system designed to support the industrial economy and not for the benefit of people and planet. The private property rights of the Corporation have trumped the right to protest.
In terms of where Occupy goes from here, John Cooper QC confirmed in court today that he would be seeking permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal itself, on behalf of principal named Occupy Defendant Tammy Samede. His argument will be based on the proportionality principle – the remedies sought by (and granted to) the Corporation, in his argument, are not the ‘least intrusive’ or most proportionate means of addressing the concerns of the Corporation. He has until Friday 27 January to lodge an application for permission and until that date, the Corporation will not enforce the eviction order.
This buys us a bit of time and gets us some media coverage. But we need to start thinking about how to radically change our legal system so that it delivers just outcomes for the 99%. The model of local Community Rights Ordinances is working well in dozens of towns in the US - such a model of local community self governance could be exported over here and could be an effective means to bring power back to the people.
by Melanie Strickland