Peace activist appeals to European Court against Westminster protest ban

19 June 2007

James Welch, Legal Director of Liberty, said:


“The right to free speech is a strong British tradition therefore it is a great shame that we must now seek justice in the European courts. Surely our leaders don’t require this heavy-handed law to protect them from peaceful dissent?”


Rai and another protester, Maya Evans, were arrested in October 2005 at the Cenotaph in Whitehall as they read out the names of UK soldiers and civilians killed in the war in Iraq.


The High Court upheld their conviction under s132 of SOCPA in December 2006. The judges determined that there could be no further appeal to the House of Lords.



Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3831 128


NOTES TO EDITORS



1. Milan Rai, represented by Liberty, and Maya Evans, represented by Bindmans and Partners Law Firm, lodged an appeal on 19 June 2007 with the European Court of Human Rights. For a copy of the application contact Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3831 128. 


2. The Divisional Court heard the defendants’ appeal on 16 – 17 November 2006. Counsel Peter Thornton QC from Doughty Street Chambers argued that the prosecutions are disproportionate in light of the facts of each case.


3. Peaceful demonstrators frustrated with SOCPA 2005 protest restrictions have challenged the law with a series of “mass lone demonstrations.” Under Section 133 of the Act, authority is required from the police for every protest that occurs within the designated area [ii] as defined under SOCPA, so people have been gathering together for a series of individual protests in Parliament Square.


4. Brian Haw, whose permanent anti-war vigil in Parliament Square for the last four years has been challenged by the Home Office, was found to be exempt from the SOCPA ban on unauthorised protest near Parliament subject to various restrictions.


5. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) prohibits any demonstrations of one person or more within 1 square kilometre of the Houses of Parliament unless prior permission has been sought in writing from the police. Generally at least 6 days notice should be given, although a minimum of at least 24 hours notice will suffice where this isn’t practicable. Under SOCPA, an individual may be charged with organising a demonstration, participating in a demonstration, or demonstrating as an individual without permission.