Law Review: The Right to Protest – Free Press – No Win No fee

The fall out from the demonstrations last Saturday continues. The Guardian reported on the extraordinary behaviour of the Police dealing with the UKUncut protesters at Fortnum & Mason.  It may well be that a charge of trespass will be upheld – Fortnum & Mason, it is reported, lost £80,000 in trade, but, so far, of the 149 charges brought against protesters, 139 charges  are from the Fortnum & Mason arrests and only 11 from those who committed assaults and acts of criminal damage outside and at other locations. MPs asked the Police for an explanation.

A lawyer at a leading civil liberties firm has expressed fears for the future of direct action protest after the mass arrest of UK Uncut activists during last Saturday’s anti-cuts demonstrations in London.

Matt Foot, a criminal defence solicitor at Birnberg Pierce, said the detention of 145 activists during an occupation of luxury food store Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly was “unprecedented”. He has questioned the police’s motivation.

The Guardian

It is clear from video footage that the police misled the Fortnum & Mason protesters by telling them they were free to leave and would not be ‘kettled’.  It may have been easier for the Police to arrest the protesters outside the ship, rather than inside, but I suspect this action will be a PR disaster for the police in terms of trust from those who protest peacefully?

Mr Raj Chada, a solicitor representing some of the protesters said: “The manner in which these arrests were carried out raises a number of serious questions. Is the act of conducting a peaceful sit-in protest now being treated as a criminal act? ….”

A fair point?

Independent press crucial to the administration of justice, says lord chief justice

Joshua Rozenberg, writing in The Guardian reports: An independent press is crucial to the administration of justice, the lord chief justice of England and Wales said during a lecture in Israel on Monday night. Lord Judge is known to be concerned at the risk of totalitarian governments being voted into power, a view reinforced by his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of Nazi Germany.

“In a democratic society,” he said in an aside, “who knows what the will of the electorate may produce at any election?”

He added: “The independence of the judiciary and the independence of the media are both fundamental to the continued exercise – and, indeed, to the survival – of the liberties which we sometimes take for granted.”

I cannot imagine that many would disagree with this view.  It was interesting to read in The Sun this morning the continuing campaign of bile against lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke,.  The Sun has decided (along with The Daily Mail) that the war on drugs has to be won and is vilifying Clarke and The Sentencing Council for the soft approach being taken on sentencing drug dealers with ‘modest’ amounts of drugs;  preferring to concentrate on the producers and big dealers.

This prompted Matthew Norman in The Independent to ask if the right wing tabloids are running the country and if ministers will run scared – as they have often done in the past of offending the interests and wishes of the right wing press.

The primary issue here is one of political courage, or rather, its absence under fire. Any politician who dares to stand against the tabloids quickly undares

AND.. I am delighted to give a plug to this conference at the request of fellow twitter user @SundeepBhatia2, who is a pleasure to tweet with.

Minority Lawyers Conference & Awards 2011 “Diversity – Embracing change”

Details of the conference

The cost of clamping down on ‘no win, no fee’ legal arrangements

Neil Rose writes in The Guardian: Reform of the litigation system could see claimants lose significant portions of their awards and solicitors reluctant to take on complex cases

Ken Clarke’s announcement on Tuesday that the government is to reform the costs of civil litigation has been portrayed as a crackdown on lawyers’ fees. That always makes a pleasing headline but the reality is that the justice secretary wants the public to do it for him.

The main problem identified by the government and Lord Justice Jackson – the appeal court judge whose report underlies these proposals – is that the current “no win, no fee” system of conditional fee agreements (CFAs) means the client has no interest in how much their lawyer charges, because they will never have to pay any of it.

By making the lawyer’s success fee payable by the client rather than the losing defendant, that will clearly change, and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) expects competition to drive down prices.
I thought it not inappropriate, given the above, to thank one of my sponsors – who helps pay for all the free materials for students,  provided on my online magazine Insite Law – Thanks to Accident Advice Helpline

4 thoughts on “Law Review: The Right to Protest – Free Press – No Win No fee

  1. There is a public interest test on any prosecution, and I believe if substantial financial damage is done be preventing the carrying out of lawful business through coercive action (by simply numbers) then it could well pass that test.

    Of course Fortnum & Masons might have had the option of a civil action for damages. Indeed they might still have that, but such an action could (in financial terms) actually turn out worse for the protesters in financial terms given the legal costs that could be incurred. Of course any such civil action would be difficult to pursue, but any organisers could well be liable.

    It’s not just protesting in my view and comes close to using coercive physical force by dint of weight of numbers to do financial damage. I’m not sure I see the ethical difference between that and physical damage.

  2. Yes… I can see no bar in principle to a civil trespass action. Would, as always, depend on precise evidence. No trespass simply by entering – but refusing to leave?

    Economic loss is a complex (and interesting) area of law.

    I am reading up on criminal trespass now…. not had occasion to do so before since university 35 years ago!

  3. The “leading civil liberty lawyer”‘s comments confuse me. By “direct action” they mean civil disobedience. Can they really be complaining that civil disobedience is against the law? Isn’t that the point?

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