THE High Court ruled on Wednesday that the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral should be removed.
Mr Justice Lindblom granted possession orders and injunctions to the City of London Corporation against Occupy London. He said that the Corporation’s attempt to evict the protest camp had been “entirely lawful and justified”.
In his judgment, Judge Lindblom said: “The extent and duration of the obstruction of the highway, and the public nuisance inherent in that obstruction, would itself warrant making an order for possession and granting injunctive and declaratory relief. So, too, would the effect of the camp on the Article 9 rights of worshippers in the cathedral. So would the effect on visits to the cathedral. So would the other private nuisance caused to the Church.”
He said that the City of London Corporation “gave the defendants ample opportunity to remove the protest camp without the need for time and money to be spent in legal proceedings. It has behaved both responsibly and fairly throughout.”
The judge rejected an application to appeal from Occupy London’s QC, as well as a request that the tents outside St Paul’s be present only during the day. He said that Occupy could seek leave to appeal directly from the Court of Appeal, and gave it seven working days to do so. This means that no enforcement can take place before 4 p.m. next Friday, unless the Court of Appeal rejects an application to appeal before then.
A message posted by Occupy London on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon said that the group was considering three options: “Plan A — stay and resist; Plan B — leave to spread into local neighbourhoods; Plan C — find a new target.”
Shortly after the judgment, the City of London’s policy chairman, Stuart Fraser, said: “We took this action to clear the tents and equipment at St Paul’s. We hope the protesters will now remove the tents voluntarily. If not, and subject to any appeal proceedings, we will be considering enforcement action.
“Lawful protests are a regular part of City life, but tents, equipment and, increasingly, quite a lot of mess and nuisance, is not what a highway is for, and the public generally is losing out — as evidence before the court made clear.’’
During the hearing last month, the counsel for the protesters argued that the camp was not preventing people from visiting and worshipping at St Paul’s, and that it was being properly managed. The counsel for the City of London Corporation said that the camp was a “public nuisance” that had “acted as a magnet for people who have caused significant disorder and a substantial increase in crime in this area”.
Shortly after the judgment was announced, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said: “Whatever now happens as a result of today’s judgment, the protest has brought a number of vital themes to prominence. These are themes that the St Paul’s Institute remains committed to exploring and, now through London Connection, we want to ensure they continue to have a voice.”
The former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, the Revd Dr Giles Fraser, who was at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the judgment, said: “This judgment is disappointing. In a world where there is such a gap between rich and poor, the voice of protest needs continually to be heard. The Church must not be seen to side with the one per cent and against the 99 per cent.”
A petition set up by the campaigning group Christianity Uncut, inviting people to form a “ring of prayer” around the protest camp if it is threatened with forced removal, rapidly attracted signatories after the judgment was released. As the Church Times went to press, 171 people had already signed it.
The Revd Chris Howson, a city-centre mission priest in Bradford, supported the idea of a ring of prayer. He said that the Occupy movement “has been the most liberating experience for the Church since the Faith in the City report in the 1980s”.
Last Friday, a judge at Bristol County Court ruled that the Occupy protesters camped on College Green outside Bristol Cathedral must leave. A group of protesters, claiming that “due process” had not been followed, refused to leave the court, but left peacefully a few hours later.
A statement issued by Occupy Bristol the same day said that the group had “agreed that we need to move from College Green”; it said that a group had been “liaising with the Council and Cathedral to see if we could agree a date to leave.”