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Fereshteh with Conor and Occupied Times editor Michael
Wild Law UK supporter Fereshteh Ehsan writes about last night's highly successful Occupy Law event at Tent City University, London.  The distinguished panel at this event included Prof Conor Gearty (an eminent human rights lawyer), barrister Sarah Sackman, New Statesman blogger and city lawyer David Allen Green, barrister with a reputation for defending the underdog David Wolfe, and occupy Defendant George Barda. All the panellists expressed support for Occupy lsx in its mission to achieve systemic change and justice. Many wild lawyers attended this event and nobbled the speakers afterwards! Justice for the planet is a core concern of occupy, as noted in Occupy LSX's initial statement.

Fereshteh Ehsan

What emerged from the Tent City University debate last night was the ready acknowledgement by the eminent panel of lawyers of the need to maintain common land, the importance of the right to peaceable protest as a justified means of drawing attention to an unacceptable state of affairs and the vital role of the law in championing the rights of the people.
 
There was recognition that people play the part that they can in whatever position they are in to change law and society for the better, whether it be, for example, through protesting, journalism or practising law and that sometimes it can only be through a combination of these means that dramatic change can be achieved - as emphasised by David Wolfe and Conor Gearty.
 
The impeccable Sarah Sackman gave the inspirational analogy of the American black people’s struggle and success in achieving recognition of equality in the first half of the  20th century and the vital role that the law played alongside civil disobedience.  David Allen Green’s strong support of his fellow panellists (on first hearing the Cathedral’s charge that the presence of Occupy presented a threat to health and safety he declared it a sham in his article in the New Statesman) was tempered only with one proviso:  that civil disobedience should not be the first recourse to changing the law as the law itself  provided means for change but that where there was no other way, peaceful demonstration was a necessary and acceptable means of drawing attention to an unacceptable state of affairs or rather in his apt words, “you need to throw everything up into the air!” 

Occupy LSX is back in court on Wednesday 22 February to hear whether judges will allow permission to appeal. Readers may also be interested in Conor Gearty's article in the Occupied Times on the role of the Cathedral in the eviction case.
 
 
Phil England, freelance journalist 5 February 2012.

Some 50 people crammed into the Tent City University outside St Paul’s cathedral earlier today to take part in a discussion about the reasons for the continuing failure of the UN talks. The latest round of talks in Durban, South Africa in December ended with little more than voluntary agreements and plans to do something at some point in the future. Friends of the Earth International produced a pithy analysis of the outcome entitled Disastrous “Durban Package” Accelerates Onset of Climate Catastrophe.

George Monbiot was the panel’s star attraction. After Durban he wrote a column in The Guardian which asked: “So why is it so easy to save the banks and so hard to save biosphere? If ever you needed evidence that our governments operate in the interests of the elite, rather than the world as a whole, here it is.”

The event was organized by the Occupy LSX Energy, Equity and Environment working group who had previously agreed a statement on the Durban conference which pinned the blame of the ongoing failure of the UN climate talks to adequately address their central mission of “avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” on the influence of vested interests. The problem was therefore systemic and required systemic solutions. The group’s statement supported the outcomes of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth and called for the UK government to introduce “a declaration of rights for all species and protection for the earth systems, ecosystems and habitats that support them “ and legislation to make ecocide a crime.

If systemic reform of the UNFCCC system does not come quickly, and adequate solutions to keeping within our rapidly diminishing carbon budget not implemented, then it will be a walking zombie, that has demonstrably failed in its task. Would adopting a Declaration on Earth Rights and other international legal measures such as outlawing Ecocide and respecting planetary boundaries help fix a broken system?

Claire Morris who had traveled across African to Durban as part of the Climate Justice Caravan listed a number of examples that she had witnessed of special interests interfering with the process in Durban.

Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth had been in Durban and did not have a good word to say about the outcome. Civil society, he said, had to be involved in the process just to make sure the outcome was not as bad as it could otherwise have been. The glimmer of hope in the talks did not lie inside the conference centre but in the Occupation outside the centre with its daily general assemblies based on consensus decision-making. A large and vociferous group of civil society representatives also demonstrated their deep displeasure with the talks by occupying the conference centre briefly.

Asad celebrated the diversity of opinions that the global climate movement had when it came to solutions, but George Barda, a litigant in person in the case between Occupy London and the Corporation of London, argued that when it came to addressing the climate problem, a global solution was needed and the solutions favoured by the 99% needed to be clearly articulated if we were to have any success. Thankfully, that was one of the tasks that Occupy as a global movement had been working on - constructing a common narrative that links the environmental, economic and democratic crises and advocates a shared vision of solutions and a better world. 

 
 
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Crowd outside the Royal Courts of Justice today after the judgment (18 Jan 2012)
*UPDATED 19 January 2012 - with judgment*

On Wednesday 18 January 2012 in the High Court occupiers and many supporters, along with the City of London Corporation, were in court to hear the judgment in the case to evict the occupiers from land around St Paul's Cathedral. The occupiers claim that they have the right to protest; but the Corporation owns the land and (successfully) contended that the occupier's human rights are outweighed by other factors and the public interest. 

The judge ruled in favour of the Corporation. The judge fully accepted the Corporation's case on all the substantive points and made clear that in his judgment, the presence of the tents is causing ‘various kinds of harm’, including to worshippers who use the cathedral and access to the highway. These harms, in the judge’s view, outweighed the interference with the occupiers’ Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (peaceful assembly) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge refused permission to appeal, agreeing with the Corporation’s argument that the appeal had no realistic prospect of success.

Sadly, the judgment is not unexpected.  Whilst the judge did note that "No one has doubted, or could, the significance of the causes the Defendants promote, or the sincerity and passion with which they are doing this," from the perspective of the current legal system, this is irrelevant. What is also irrelevant from the perspective of the legal system are the “compellingly important” (in the words of Defendant George Barda) issues that are raised by the occupation - such as massive inequality, the destruction of the life support systems of this planet, the greed of the 1% at the expense of the 99%, and the growing democratic deficit.

Such issues, which are fundamentally about justice, are not for the court to consider. The court cannot adjudicate on the merits of the occupation.

This case highlights that the legal system is part of the problem – it is part of the ‘system’ we are seeking to radically change. The law itself is not neutral – we have inherited a legal system designed to support the industrial economy and not for the benefit of people and planet. The private property
rights of the Corporation have trumped the right to protest.

In terms of where Occupy goes from here, John Cooper QC confirmed in court today that he would be seeking permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal itself, on behalf of principal named Occupy Defendant Tammy Samede.  His argument will be based on the proportionality principle – the remedies sought by (and granted to) the Corporation, in his argument, are not the ‘least intrusive’ or most proportionate means of addressing the concerns of the Corporation. He has until Friday 27 January to lodge an application for permission and until that date, the Corporation will not enforce the eviction order.

This buys us a bit of time and gets us some media coverage. But we need to start thinking about how to radically change our legal system so that it delivers just outcomes for the 99%. The model of local
Community Rights Ordinances is working well in dozens of towns in the US - such a model of local community self governance could be exported over here and could be an effective means to bring power back to the people. 


by Melanie Strickland