HISTORIC APPEAL CASE COULD SET PRECEDENT FOR RIGHT TO LOW-IMPACT LIVING

  • Runnymede eco-village High Court eviction appeal starts Thursday
  • Right to subsistence enshrined in Magna Carta companion Charter of the Forest
  • Eviction granted to luxury property developers on exact day of 800th anniversary of Magna Carta
  • Case supported by constitutional experts
  • Eco-village, Occupy Democracy and allies call for citizen-led constitutional convention

Runnymede eco-village are appealing against their eviction at the Royal Courts of Justice (Queen’s Bench Appeals Division) in an historic case that starts 10am, Thursday 10th September and could set a precedent for the right to low-impact living on disused land.

An eviction order was granted to luxury property developers Orchid Runnymede Ltd on June 15th – the exact day of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta [2]. At the time of the hearing the eco-village in collaboration with Occupy Democracy was holding a Festival of Democracy which the authorities kept members of the public away from by imposing a five mile exclusion zone [3].

Mr Justice Knowles, adjourning the case prior to this appeal hearing, suggested the High Court did not take into account many of the arguments the eco-village residents put forward [4]. He recognised the powerful symbolism of the land and the competing interests in this “exceptional” case, noting;

“The exceptional location and the history associated with the site, and the competing and directly differing interests – one seeking possession of ancient forest for development and the other side seeking to remain on a site occupied for three years.”

He further recognised; 

“One of the criticisms of the applicants was although the judge dealt with some issues, such as licensing matters, other issues were dealt with either not at all, or hardly at all.” 

The appellants now have the opportunity to argue, amongst other things, that the Magna Carta and its companion Charter of the Forest gives ordinary people the right to subsist on unused land. Other arguments relate to common law, proportionality, sustainability and human rights [5].

This historic appeal case has the potential set a precedent over access to disused and wasteland for the purposes of growing food and the creating of low-impact off-grid homes.

Eco-village representative and appellant Peter Phoenix said:

“This historic appeal case will raise awareness of the erosion of our civil liberties, rights to a fair trial, access to land, the Magna Carta, Charter of the Forest and common law. Whatever the outcome of the trial the Eco-village, Occupy Democracy and allied groups will continue to push for a citizen-led constitutional convention as our democracy is facing a clear crisis.”

Last month Caroline Lucas MP called on Jeremy Corbyn MP to call for a citizen-led constitutional convention should he become leader of the Labour Party on 12th September [6].

CASE SUPPORTED BY CONSTITUTIONAL EXPERTS

A number of constitutional experts are lending their support to the case including openDemocracy founder Anthony Barnett and Professor Guy Standing of University of London whose books include A Precariat Charter.

Barnett said:

“Once again Runnymede is witnessing a historic confrontation, as the Court of Appeal considers the case of the eco-village settled in the woods above the meadow where the Magna Carta was sealed versus luxury property speculators registered in the Isle of Man, seeking to expel them and enclose the woods. 

The developers aim to dissolve history for short-term profit by privatising access to the woods while the eco-settlers claim its leafy spaces for the common good, in a tradition once protected by the Charter of the Forests that accompanied the more famous ‘Greater’ Charter of 1215. We can be confident that if not now in today’s courts then later in tomorrow’s the rights to the commons will be recognised and the woods of Runnymede will become an open space.”

Standing said:

“There is cultural and economic substance in this case. Britain has a long proud tradition of defending “the commons”, giving our lower-income citizens free access to public land for subsistence, habitation and the “right to roam” as enshrined in the Charter of the Forest of 1217. 

“Today we are at a crisis point of accelerating commodification of the commons, which is eroding our heritage. In this symbolic case, on the land above where the Charter of Liberties was drawn up in 1215, the plan is to turn it over to private property developers to sell, in all probability, to rich foreigners. It was planned for parts of Sherwood Forest, until public protests forced a change of mind. Runnymede is as significant a part of the commons. Please keep it public and part of the commons.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

[1]  Occupy Democracy is a social movement for democracy free from corporate influence that works for people and planet. We formed in March 2014 as a working group of Occupy London. Working by consensus decision-making, we have a safer spaces policy and are dedicated to non-violence. Our six core demands can be read here: https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2014/10/28/occupy-democracy-current-demands-list/

[2]  https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2015/06/16/runnymede-festival-for-democracy-ends-under-the-ankerwycke-yew-tree-with-call-for-citizen-led-constitutional-convention/

[3]  https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2015/06/14/magna-carta-vs-runnymede-eco-village-eco-villagers-call-on-police-to-stop-over-reaching-powers-and-respect-the-law/

[4]  https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2015/06/24/runnymede-eco-village-get-stay-of-execution-in-eviction-proceedings-so-high-court-can-consider-whether-they-were-given-an-adequate-hearing-in-exceptional-case/

[5]  The full skeleton legal argument is available on request.

[6]  http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/my-message-to-jeremy-corbyn-i-can-help-you-build-a-progressive-majority-10469934.html]. The Green Party MP said: “A convention has the potential to energise even more people than your leadership campaign, or the Green surge, and to inspire the kind of feeling across the UK that swept Scotland in 2014.”

Assemblies for Democracy [http://assembliesfordemocracy.org] are organising an event in London on 14th November featuring John McDonnell MP with a view to holding a constitutional convention in Spring 2016.

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