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SOCPA - not a good day for freedom of speech

rikki | 08.08.2007 21:45 | SOCPA | Repression | London

the monday edition of 'the independent' claimed 'a good day fro freedom of speech' on its front page. it was far from it.

brian haw was in the high court last week after the crown prosecution service and director of public prosecution sought to have a magistrate's judgement overturned.

in the month of may last year, conditions were imposed by superintendent terry on brian's display in parliament square. through his lawyers, brian attempted to clarify and negotiate the terms of these conditions, but police unilaterally launched a costly night-time raid and enforced a huge reduction in the size and scope of his demonstration on may 23rd by effectively stealing much of his property.

the raid involved 78 officers, and at first the commissioner told the metropolitan police authority it had cost £7,000. a leak showed this to be disingenuous, as the real figue was £28,000. further, it has recently come to light that the raid was followed by extra patrols and when all costs were added in the real figure stood at £110,000 spent in just a few days just to clamp down on brian haw.

this january, the case came to court. brian was accused of breaching the police conditions.

brian's barrister, ian mcdonald, argued that the commissioner could not delegate to a superintendent the authority to impose conditions, and that the conditions anyway were not sufficiently clear as to be compatible with human rights legislation.

the magistrate, judge purdy, was not impressed by a letter (the police were at a loss to explain why it was undated) from the commissioner, delegating authority to superintenedent terry, and so he ruled that conditions could only be imposed by commssioners, and through delegation by assistant commssioners and deputy commissioners, but not lower ranks.

thus, there was no case to answer. this meant that the question over the conditions themselves didn't strictly need attention, but he applauded ian mcdonalds masterclass in demonstrating the absurdity of the stated conditions and then ruled that they did indeed breach human rights by being ludicrously unclear and open to any number of interpretations.

the police were not happy at this verdict. superintendent terry carried on authorising demos and occasionally imposing conditions despite the ruling, and was relying on a win at the high court to defend the illegality of his continuing actions. on monday, he got what he wanted.

the 'independent' newspaper claimed that monday was a 'good day for freedom of protest'.

the newspaper covered the ruling that a private company (british airport authority) did have the right to place an injunction on named protestors, curtailing their freedom to interfere with the company's wanton destruction of the planet. the paper focussed on the fact that the airport had not succeeded in its ludicrous aim to criminalise several more million people, but the fact remains a private injunction against named citizens is now sanctioned by law.

the front page also referred to the high court ruling on brian haw. the lord chief justice overruled judge purdy's decision and allowed the undated police document to stand, giving superintendents the right to interfere with freedom of speech in the socpa zone. not my idea of a victory for free speech.

on the point of the conditions themselves, the court agreed with judge purdy that the conditions were not sufficiently clear, but while 'the independent' marked this as a victory, the effect of the ruling may have further serious adverse repercussions that are far from 'good for freedom of speech'. the court warned that brian should go along with the police attempts to curtail his demo, because further argument could lead to much 'simpler' conditions which in their attempt to be clearer might severely restrict his protest. i don't see that this sinister threat marks any kind of victory for free speech.

when gordon brown took office on the 29th june, a flurry of press releases suggested he would in his first 100 days repeal the 'socpa' restrictions controlling protest outside parliament. at the time i expressed my suspicions that this was all brown spin, and well, we're waiting and counting, and this week's rulings do not bode well.

'socpa - the movie' will be shown again as part of the portobello film festival at the westbourne studios on monday 13th august at 7.30pm. it is shown as part of the 'filmakers against the war' evening from 6pm to 11pm. the evening comprises five films, with short q&a sessions with some of the filmakers, as well as guest appearances by tony benn and music from sarah bear. entrance is free.

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