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SOCPA - brian haw legal update

rikki | 19.10.2006 16:25 | SOCPA | Anti-militarism | Repression | London

brian has won the right to petition the lords to challenge whether his five-year non-stop protest outside parliament can be controlled under the new serious organised crime and police act legislation. he also has leave to appeal to the high court over the legality of police conditions restricting his current protest. no dates have been set yet for these hearings. meanwhile supporters are warmly welcomed in parliament square.

it's an open secret that the serious organised crime and police act section 132 et al (socpa) was originally introduced by the government in order to remove brian haw's long-standing demonstration outside parliament, as the banners had been a constant source of embarrassment to the members of parliament who had voted for the genocide that we have since rained on afghanistan and iraq.

when the bill received royal assent on the 7th april 2005, it required that protesters in the designated area around parliament must notify the police six days before the commencement of any demonstration. brian haw wondered how he could conform to this rule, as his protest had started several years previously. so his solicitors wrote to the home secretary on the 8th april to confirm that brian's demo must be exempt.

it took many months to receive a reply, but a few days before the law came into force august 2005, charles clarke added what was termed a 'transitional order' (this was without any parliamentary scrutiny) that included brian's protest by referring to demos that were ongoing and continuous. the high court thought the matter so important that they saw brian immediately and ruled the home secretary's addition 'ultra vires' - that is, outside the law.

so last august, brian haw, or rather, and perhaps crucially to others, his 'demonstration', became the ONLY one not requiring permission from the police. charles clarke fumed, and he appealed to the high court, where three judges, split and decided only by majority, ruled not on what was written in the act, but on what they though the government might have meant - a bizarre and unprecedented ruling. so, they decided that somehow, as if by magic, brian's protest could be controlled under socpa.

one of the many issues with this law is the fact that it effectively allows the police to be lawmakers and prosecutors, by giving them virtually unfettered power through the conditions that they can apply. they showed this, quite unashamedly when, a short while after imposing drastic and disproprtionate conditions on brian's display, they swooped in the dead of night and removed all but three metres of his display including valuable artworks and privileged private legal documents.

that night-time police action (costing £78,000, which the commissioner was caught lying about the very next day) was nothing more than punishment without trial. it was the naked brute force manifestation of the real intent of the law - to remove the embarrassment of brian's eternal reminder that the decisions made in our name in parliament had led to genocide, and that the war criminals were still at large and dangerous.

since then, a small band of dedicated supporters have continued to challenge the murderers in government and their gagging law. and in return the police have continued to lie, to use brute force against peaceful people, and to try and twist justice in order to intimidate and tire the few who remain.

but the battle goes on, and brian has recently had some good news. he has won the legal aid necessary to petition the house of lords in his own fight against the interpretation of this law and regain his clear exemption. also, he has won the right to challenge the legality of the conditions that the police put on him. this will now be appealed at the high court.

the socpa law was drafted in a hurry and fell into the hole between trying to remain within human rights legislation while trying to effectively outlaw protest.

in trying to fix this gap, charles clarke acted unlawfully (according to the high court originally). but beware, there is legislation going through parliament again, the legal and regulatory reform bill, that will mean that future ministers can do what charles clarke did and much much more, adding clauses and even entire laws without parliamentary scrutiny or approval.

as our 'democratic' leaders continue to make decisions to slaughter innocents abroad, they need even more legislation to silence the detractors and dissenters at home, and it is clear these laws are coming thick and fast. after's socpa's initial introduction last august, it was rolled out to cover nuclear sites, army bases, and other government and military installations around the country, making it far easier to arrest, detain and even attack protestors like those at fairford, brize norton and aldermarston. it really is up to people who care to challenge these laws on the ground and in the courts.

anyone is welcome to join brian haw's protest. one of his closest friends and allies, the wonderful maria gallestegui is currently injured and unable to stay at parliament square, but a small group of supporters regularly help brian out and some stay overnight in sleeping bags on the grass. please don't come and be a burden, but do please come and support in any ways you can. your country needs you!

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  1. small correction — rikki