Friday, 14 September 2007

Right to protest penned in

I cycled on the small Critical Mass ride to the Dorchester Hotel last night to protest outside whilst the arms dealers were tucking into a five star dinner inside. After cycling merrily along for half an hour or so, the Police blocked us in at the end of Upper Grosvenor St and told us they were holding us under s12 of the Public Disorder Act 1986. This means that the senior officer believes that our 'procession' was likely to result in 'serious public disorder' or 'serious damage to property' or to the 'serious disruption to the life of the community'.

The last point has some merit, in that we wanted to disrupt the diners feasting on the profits of their deadly dealings, but to say they were the community or that 20 odd cyclists could seriously disrupt them, was pushing the point.

The senior officer who announced the s12 notice told me, on questioning, that he wasn't required to give me his reasoning for believing that there would be serious public disorder etc. I asked him how I might find out his reasoning, and was told I'd have to take a judical review. These are not cheap and are hard to come by at 8 o'clock on a Thursday night in the middle of the street.

So this morning I've done a big search of various acts and can't find a definition of what 'serious public disorder' etc means. Anyone help out?

What strikes me is that the state can define where a protest can be held (s14 of same act); which is a weird irony given that protests are often against the state. The other ironies are slapping such a notice on a non-violent protest. But more than anything, the Act (and various others that I discovered) allow the Police to impose virtually any condition they like, without having to explain their reasoning; safe in the knowledge that the citizen does not have practical recourse to challenge this. For example, even if I could afford to mount a judical review, I can only do this subsequently and it would take several months. And even when I find out the officer's rationale and/or the judge tells them they were mistaken; it'll only apply to the situation I was in, the Police will only get a slapped wrist and meantime will be using whatever Act they choose to use (anti-harassment, SOCA, public order acts) to prevent peaceful protest.

Something is out of control. In the meantime, I've emailed the senior officer to ask if he can help me find a definition of a serious public disorder and/or give me an account of his 'reasonable belief' that we were about to do serious disorder or serious damage or serious disruption.

Watch this space.

1 comment:

DD said...

The incident is amazingly absurd, yet should we be surprised? What are the powers-that-be afraid of? Is it just the cops going for a joy ride with the mass of power and authority that the politicians have handed over to them? Are politicians really that afraid of nonviolent activists? Afraid that everyone will see the emperor has no clothes?

We must remember (as the authorities well do) -- freedom is a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.

Wish we could have been there to unleash ourselves ... but Ian's tyre was still being fiddled with.

Anyone know anything about the Big Cycle Ride 23 Sept? Does that have any political colour? See you at the end of the month ride.