Victory for campaigners as “pay to protest” authorities back down

26 February 2015

Authorities who demanded climate change campaigners fork out thousands of pounds to march peacefully in London have bowed to pressure from Liberty, protesters and the public and staged a dramatic u-turn.

In January, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) were told that they should hire a private security firm to man their Time to Act march – at a cost of several thousand pounds – after the Metropolitan Police refused to facilitate the temporary closure of roads along the agreed route.

But, in the face of pressure from Liberty, the CACC and other campaigning groups, the authorities have now backed down and agreed to take steps to allow the protest to go ahead on 7 March.

Article 11 of the Human Rights Act states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly – and places a positive obligation on the State to take reasonable steps to facilitate that right, and to protect participants from disruption by others.

Liberty’s Legal Director James Welch, who has been working with CACC to challenge the authorities’ decision, said:

“Finally the authorities have seen sense – but it should never have gone this far. Authorities should have sorted this weeks ago, not kept the Campaign Against Climate Change jumping through unnecessary hoops. 

“When the public wish to exercise their fundamental right to protest, police, councils and traffic authorities should be saying ‘let’s make it happen’ – not asking ‘how can we do as little as possible?’.  We’ll be ready to help keep them right in future.”

A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Climate Change said: “We are obviously very relieved that the authorities will be facilitating this demonstration after all. Now we can focus on making our protest a really powerful message to those in power about the urgency of the climate crisis, an event bringing together families, faith groups, trade unions and all parts of society.

“We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us on this: the solidarity of other campaign groups experienced in organising mass demonstrations and civil liberties experts, as well as members of the public, 63,000 of whom signed the Avaaz petition against the privatisation of protest.

“We hope that in the future the right to protest will be protected without campaigners being put through the stress and uncertainty of potential costs beyond the reasonable responsibilities of protest organisers.”

The CACC has worked with police and other agencies to stage several safe and successful large-scale marches over the past decade. Large protests require a temporary traffic regulation order – but in this case Westminster City Council told the CACC it would issue an order only when they had produced a traffic management plan and hired a private company to manage traffic.

Westminster City Council and Transport for London (TfL) have now confirmed they will arrange road closures to allow the march to go ahead. 

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