Political pressure criminalises protest
The Law Commission has proposed to scrap this law that it describes as “unacceptable” to “modern democracy”. Mr Oldfield’s action aimed to highlight the destruction of public services, the growing inequalities in British Society and establishment’s attacks on the right to protest. He was originally charged with a minor Public Order offense. This was increased to Public Nuisance, after a Government MP asked for a custodial sentence.
In a Home Affairs Committee, ten days after the boat race on 17th April 2012, Michael Ellis MP expressed his concern over the boat race incident and how “one idiot” could cause such disruption. He requested that Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, seek a strong sentence and complained how the sentence the police originally charged Mr Oldfield with “Carries no custodial penalty option.” The Commissioner responded, “I do know that the CPS are reviewing whether a more serious charge is possible, given the circumstances.”[i]
Two years ago the Law Commission proposed to scrap the 12th Century crime of Public Nuisance. Asserting that it is vague, outdated, often conflicted with European Rights Law and potential offences were covered by other laws. When expanding these critiques, they warned how it could be used to criminalise anything that the establishment disliked, especially protests.[ii]
With expectations of prison, prior to his sentencing, Mr Oldfield asserted, “Most nation states work very hard at creating and maintaining untrue myths about themselves. Great Britain has convinced many it is the home of democracy and the “gauge” for civilisation. Anyone that lives here today or who has experienced even a moment of their attempts at colonisation knows Britain, particularly England, is a brutal, deeply divided class-ridden place. Let there be no mistake, there has long been a deficit of democracy. Today it is at breaking point. It is time for a revolution.”
Judge Anne Molyneax passed this sentence today in Isleworth Crown Court. Incidentally she used to be a corporate lawyer working within the City of London for Masons & Sprecher Grier Halberstam.[iii] Many see the City of London as a key cause of a great deal of the inequality. For instance, despite the austerity cuts this year Chief executive pay in the top FTSE 25 rocketed by more than 41 per cent.[iv] Within the verdict, the Judge mentioned how the swim, “spoiled the race”, that afterwards it took 25 minutes to restart it. She complained, “No one will ever know the outcome of what would have been if you had not acted as you did.”
Judge Molyneax asserted that Mr Oldfield made five wrong decisions. She claimed that he acted “disproportionately” and that it was unclear “what your views actually were”; secondly, “There was no immediate or instant need to act as you did”; also that his “actions were dangerous”; further that he stopped people enjoying watching a sporting event and that he “did nothing to address the inequality by giving yourself the right to spoil the enjoyment of others”. Finally, she went on to suggest by targeting the participants he acted with “prejudice”.[v]
Analysing Judge’s Molyneax’s verdict it is hard not to feel to draw comparisons with Russia’s Pussy Riot and their incarnation. It seems deeply hypercritical that British Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt, expressed his “deep concerns” about the treatment Pussy Riot, for an “an expression of political belief.”[vi] Another parallel with Pussy Riot is the political involvement of Putin, who was criticised for trying to influence the decision and calling for a custodial sentence of the punk band. This is exactly the same as Michael Ellis MP did using his position on the Home Affairs Committee.
It is also difficult to discern any logic from Judge Molyneax’s verdict. There seems a blatant disregard for the European Convention on Human Rights , which protects the right to protest. She suggested disrupting the race was disproportionate in regard what the protest aimed to highlight. Mr Oldfield noted in the statement, which was released after the swim, how: the government had just been given royal approval for their bill that would begin privatising the NHS; would legalise the surveillance of all British email communication and they were calling on people to tell the police if they suspected anyone of planning protests against the Olympics. His statement also explained the protest aimed to highlight the deep inequalities in Britain, the devastating austerity measures and focused on a symbol of elitism. How the judge can argue a rowing race is more important than these issues is beyond my understanding.
The Judge’s second point was that these problems were not crucially important, and do not need immediate remedy. Possibly they do not affect her on her salary. Although I think it would be fair to say many people are deeply concerned about these issues, and stopping the Conservative Government continue on its policy of austerity, privatisation, working on behalf of corporations and removing the right to protest. Judge Molyneax’s third point was that his actions were dangerous: that by putting his life in risk he endangered the health and safety of others. Putting your own life at risk is not a crime. The judge then suggested that Mr Oldfield did not have the right to spoil the event and that it did nothing to address inequality. I would suggest this is incorrect. The right he had is enshrined within the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10. In terms of addressing the problem, protests are often there to highlight problems, not many protestors expect to solve them the same day.
Judge Molyneax however, saved her craziest point for last. She said Mr Oldfield was prejudice against the elites by aiming a protest at them. “That no good ever comes from prejudice.” I guess that environmentalists are prejudice against polluters, peace campaigners are prejudice against arms manufacturers, and so on… On this ruling, almost any political action could be banned. You could also argue the establishment are prejudice against the masses, which seems a valid point and the point of Mr Oldfield’s protest.
Historically, many people have celebrated political actions that stand up against inequality. Not least, the suffragette Emily Davison, who martyred herself by throwing herself in front of the King’s horse in the Derby. By this Judge’s reasoning and logic I think she would have jailed the activist Ms Davidson, if she had survived. Judge Molyneax would probably criticise her for spoiling the Derby. The former corporate lawyer would have claimed that she acted disproportionately and that it was unclear to anyone, who saw jump in front of the horse, what her views were. The Judge might continue that there was no pressing need for her to act at that very precise moment, continuing that her actions were dangerous, that she did nothing to address feminism within her act and that it was prejudice. Prejudice against the King and against the domination of men over women.
[i]Home Affairs Committee – Minutes of Evidence: HC 1929-i http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmhaff/1929i/120417.htm
[ii] The Law Commission, Consultation Paper No 193, simplification of criminal law: public nuisance and outraging public Decency, March 2010 http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/docs/cp193_Simplification_Public_Nuisance_Consultation.pdf
These city law firms include Masons & Sprecher Grier Halberstam.
Steve Hoare, Property team quits Masons for Sprecher, The Lawyer, 19 May 2003, http://www.thelawyer.com/property-team-quits-masons-for-sprecher/100669.article
[iv] Steve Rushton, Global Noise: a wake-up call for the world to reject austerity, Public Services Europe, 12 October 2012, http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/2584/global-noise-a-wake-up-call-for-the-world-to-reject-austerity
[vi] Foreign Office Minister deeply concerned at Pussy Riot verdict, Foreign Office, 17 October 2012, http://ukeu.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=801235082