The residents of “Democracy Village” have lost their appeal against eviction from London’s Parliament Square. David Paton witnessed their hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Suits were certainly not the order of the day in court last Friday as the residents of “Democracy Village” left their adopted home in Parliament Square and took their cause to the judiciary. When one appellant, known only as “friend” took his seat at 10 o’clock dressed in a dishevelled, rotting blue and green jersey with an overgrown bushy beard, it was clear that The Mayor of London v Hall and Others, was not quite business as usual.
The presiding judges allowed all those affected by the appeal to have their say in what turned out to be something resembling a question and answer session. This resulted in some interesting submissions, including opaque appeals to God, rants about electoral fraud, accusations that the judges had committed genocide and an invitation for the Law Lords to type “babies depleted Uranium” into Google.
Amongst all the entertainment there was, in the words of Justice Neuberger the “boring” matters to resolve by the more qualified legal eagles. On 2 July, the protesters were given a last minute stay of execution, until today’s appeal against the decision to evict them was heard. The issues at stake were twofold. First, was the mayor entitled to take possession of Parliament Square and second, would doing so constitute a violation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association. A further caveat was the question of whether Haw should be treated as a special case because he constitutes a different kind of protester than those in democracy village. As today’s judgement confirms both questions went against against the demonstrators, although Brian Haw will be allowed to stay.
Some have criticised those who defended Democracy Village, emphasising the dubious character of some of its occupants and the poor sanitation at the site. But sceptics should bear in mind the fact that some of the most lucid comments in court came from someone draped in something resembling a rainbow tapestry, wearing a polka dot facemask and a tea cosy for a hat. The man, identifying himself only as “Dot” legitimately pointed out the problems that an injunction against “Person’s Unknown” could have in distinguishing between protesters, tourists and members of the public.
Aside from the obvious judging a book by its cover argument or in this case, judging a person by their odour, there is another obvious point, one worth making: when people stand up for free speech it is the principle, not the individual that is being defended.