Crown drops attempt to prosecute crime of holding banner without permission

  • Peaceful protester has charges dropped just 24 hours before trial due to start
  • Call for absurd laws to be repealed
  • Case is the latest in a series of charges against Occupy Democracy protesters to be dropped

Just 24 hours before the trial was due to start, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) informed defendant Ryan O’Sulliavan that they would be dropping the charges of holding a banner in Parliament Square without obtaining written permission of the London Mayor. [1]

The case – which was due to start at 11am today, Thursday 6th August – is the latest in a series of absurd trials of peaceful Occupy Democracy protesters to be heard at Westminster Magistrates Court. 

Ryan O’ Sullivan, who was facing the charges, allegedly engaged in ‘prohibited activity’ in the controlled area of Parliament Square. Other such activities which require permission to be sought from the London Mayor include playing a musical instrument [2] and making a speech. [3] 

Although O’Sullivan was relieved at having the charges dropped he expressed concern that the absurd and repressive legislation was still in place.

He said: 

“It seems wrong that we have to ask Boris permission to protest outside Parliament. Having made a retrospective application for permission, it is clear how convoluted the process is. The fact I was asked to provide public liability insurance for holding a banner demonstrates how ridiculous things have become. The risk is that it will deter people from wanting to protest outside Parliament.”

This is the third in a series of trials which demonstrate the absurdity of the policing of the Occupy Democracy protests. In the first two trials last month 12 protesters who were charged with sitting on a piece of tarpaulin had their charges dropped or their case aquitted after the judge ruled that tarpaulin was not a “structure” that had been adapted for the purpose of sleeping and was therefore not an item banned under the Act and accompanying bylaws

Occupy London legal adviser Matthew Varnham said:

“Peaceful protest should never require authorisation. This point was made by the UN Special Rapporteur in his 2013 Report on the UK when he concluded that at most there should be a regime for notification [4]”

“The fact we have seen people arrested for sitting on tarpaulin and holding a banner, found to be unlawful because prior permission had not been sought, is an affront to the democractic principle of freedom of expression.”

With those arrested for sitting on tarpaulin now vindicated, the spotlight is now on the GLA and Metropolitan Police for their policing of the Occupy Democracy protests and the Crown Prosecution Service for pursing prosecutions.

Varnham adds:

“Public bodies have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest; their combined failure in this regard highlights an urgent need for policy change and law reform. [5] 

Occupy Democracy maintained a peaceful presence in Parliament Square for ten days in October 2014 uniting single issue campaigns under a platform for urgent and radical reform to address the democratic deficit. The fledgling pro-democracy movement was met with a severely repressive policing operation. This included excessive numbers of police, use of pressure points, restrictive enforcement of byelaws, dogs, helicopters and the sealing off of the Square with a two-metre fence.

The bill for policing Occupy Democracy protests from October 2014 to February 2015 totalled £1,945,279, a figure released by the GLA following a question put to the Mayor by Baroness Jenny Jones. [6]

Jones was herself arrested during the October protest. She was immediately de-arrested when she provided her details to the police, but had to wait six months to know whether or not she would be charged. The CPS decided not to prosecute her.

She says:

“The police keep overreacting to protests in Parliament Square, probably because of political pressure from the Mayor and the Government. But where better to protest about freedom to protest than outside parliament?”

A Judicial Review challenging the London Mayor’s decision to exclude all protest at Parliament Square is ongoing. [7] 

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] Section 5(1)(c) Parliament Square Gardens Byelaws 2012 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Parliament-Square-Garden-Byelaws-25Jan2012.pdf

[2] Ibid, Section 5(1)(d)

[3] Ibid, Section 5(1)(i)

[4] http://freeassembly.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/A-HRC-23-39-Add1_en-mission-to-UK-20131.pdf

[5] Liberty have been granted permission to take a Judicial Review against the Mayor’s decision to exclude protesters from Parliament Square on the run-up to the General Election. This case is ongoing.

[6]  Cost analysis of policing Parliament Square

Question No: 2015/0830

Jenny Jones

Thank you for your answer to my questions 2015/0055 and2015/0497. In your response to my original question 2015/0055 you state “Providing accurate costs for a large number of policing operations is a complex activity requiring significant work by accountants. At this time, cost analysis is unavailable.” Will you release the cost analysis once it has been undertaken?

Written response from the Mayor

The total estimated cost to the MPS of policing the Parliament Square Demonstrations from mid-October to mid-February is £1,945,279 of which £1,588,316 are opportunity costs.

The additional cost relates to overtime, £327,567 and equipment, transport and catering costs, £29,395.

[7] https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases/campaigners-given-go-ahead-legally-challenge-mayor-london-over-parliament-square

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