October 6, 2007

Stop the War Demo

Filed under: Politics — duncan @ 1:24 pm

I’m not sure why they’ve arranged it for a weekday lunchtime (Why not three a.m. on Thursday? Why not a secret gig?) – but the latest Stop the War demo is this coming Monday. (Yes, I know – to coincide with the first day of parliament and the debate on troop withdrawal). Meet 1:00 Trafalgar Square.

The government’s decided to ban the march. According to Socialist Worker: “The ban is being enforced under the terms of the sessional order passed by MPs at the start of each parliamentary term.”

Here’s the relevant order (which won’t in fact be passed for this parliamentary term until Tuesday, but never mind…):

“Ordered, That the commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during the Sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts…”

Well, an anti-war demo is clearly an annoyance. But according to this 2003 Select Committee report, the 1839 Metropolitan Police Act does not grant the Police sufficient powers to enforce the Sessional Order. “[A]lthough passing a Sessional Order may, in the words of the Clerk ‘make the House feel better’, it does not confer any extra legal powers on the police.” “We believe that legislation on demonstrations is the only way to ensure that the police have adequate powers to achieve the result intended by the Sessional Order. Without such legislation, the Sessional Order is misleading; with such legislation, it would be uneccessary.”

In 2005 the government acted on this advice, and passed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which prohibits unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square. (Actually, the area is more precisely delimited: “the designated area is the area bounded by an imaginary line starting at the point where Hungerford Bridge crosses Victoria Embankment, continuing along Hungerford Bridge to the point where it crosses Belvedere Road, rightwards along Belvedere Road as far as Chicheley Street, leftwards along Chicheley Street as far as York Road, crossing Westminster Bridge Road into Lambeth Palace Road….” etc. The Act reads like a collaboration between Iain Sinclair and Alain Robbe-Grillet.) If you don’t get permission from the Metropolitan Police to demonstrate within this area, you can’t.

In other words the sessional order’s irrelevant; and is probably just a way for the government to pretend they’re not using the controversial SOCPA legislation to ban the march.

Anyway – whatever the legalitites, the prohibition of peaceful political demonstrations is outrageous.

March on Monday.

[Update: Monday evening.
Well, they lifted the ban half an hour before the demo was due to start – perhaps because of the (relatively) large turn-out; perhaps because Brown bottled out of an early election. Pictures and stuff over on Lenin’s Tomb.
I’ve also edited down the earlier version of this post, because the quotes from the Green Paper ‘The Governance of Britain’ were almost supernaturally boring.]

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