It is well known that governments are none too fond of the right to protest, and go to great lengths to criminalize any form of dissent that threatens to be effective. This has been increasingly the case under the current Labour government where every month brings new threats to the basic right to effect change.
Protest is not about saying that something is wrong and should be stopped. It a fundamental right which allows ordinary people to come together and create the world they wish to live in, in the face of undemocratic powers and corrupt politicians who have ceased to represent the electorate. This is why it is enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet a small London legal firm has succeeded where Blair, Blunkett and Straw have failed. Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden, an expert on the 1997 Harrassment Act (the 'stalking law'), brought in to protect people from stalkers, is marketing himself to large companies as the man who can protect them from protestors.
He has turned Harrassment Act about, using it to obtain civil injunctions on behalf of targeted companies, injunctions which severely restrict the right to protest. As more and more of these injunctions are taken out, they have become wider in scope and powers. Now, the latest injunction, on behalf of property group Emerson (also trades as Orbit Developments and Jones Homes), has succeeded in widening the definition of harrassment to the point that no protest at all is allowed!
It has all be achieved under the guise of protecting the employees from being harrassed by protestors. As it is done in the civil courts, the burden of proof is far lower than the criminal courts. It is done initially without the defendants having any right of say, even if the know about it. Lawson-Cruttenden simply turns up with his witness statements, which can tell the most outrageous lies without being challenged or verified. Any sort of picture they want drawn can be created. In this sort of environment, maximized in favour of the claimant, the judge will grant most of what they want.
However, all the acts cited in justification are illegal anyway, and anybody caught doing them faces prosecution. Not the sort of person who is going to be that concerned about breaking an injunction. The upshot is that it is legitimate protest and freedom of speech and reporting which suffers. For some injunctions even the lawyers acting on behalf of the defendants are worried about how they are to be able to do their job.
So far most of these injunctions have been granted in favour of targets of animal rights companies, and also the campaign against Bayer's plans for GM food in the UK. At about £50,000 a go, you can be sure that more and more protest groups are going to be hit by these draconian injunctions. Already, Lawson-Cruttenden himself has stated that it is the anti-genetics movement which is next in line for him to push his services. The injunction he has put together for Bayer drawns false and tenuous links between disparate groups to tar everyone with the same extremist brush. Even if you have no sympathy for the hardliners, it does not matter; regardless of how pacificist your outlook is, the fact that you are against something is enough for you to be lumped in with the extremists, and there is little you can do about it. On the Bayer injunction it was enough that the animal rights campaigners of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty once did a couple of low key demos at Bayer in the Midlands for Lawson-Cruttenden to wade in with irrelevant material from the animal rights campaigns and accuse anti-GM protestors of being in the same boat.
It is only a small leap before Indymedia and other free speech organisations are placed within Lawson-Cruttendens sights, and this resource is forbidden to report on may actions simply because his clients can afford to pay for civil injunctions. This is not a scare story - this is already happening with some websites..
Below are the contact details for Lawson-Cruttenden & Co (all available from their website). Contact them and let them know you disapprove of their assault on the basic human rights of protest and free speech.
If you do not believe the restrictions being granted under these injunctions, visit http://www.shac.net/MISC/legal/legal.html and take a look at the injunctions posted there, in particular the Emerson Order at the bottom (unfortunately it is 4MB to download this pdf file). Even the lawyers are nervous to touch it, so broad is it's assault on our freedoms.
Heed the warning - for the sake of every protest, now and in the future, this must be fought at every level. Please distribute far and wide.
Lawson-Crutteneden is making an attack on our fundamental rights. However, we do not feel that his rights should also be attacked. Please use the information in this article to lobby peacefully for the restoration of our rights to protest and to publish, and not to carry out any illegal acts. Please be polite. Lobby your MP on this matter, get them to ask why the government is allowing our civil liberties so be so crudely eroded by a misapplication of the law.
Lawson-Cruttenden & Co.
10-11, Gray's Inn Square
LONDON WC1R 5JD
Tel: +44 (0)20 7405 0833
Fax: +44 (0)20 7405 0866
Email: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
Email: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives and is an experienced matrimonial law practitioner.
He is a member of Mensa and is the secretary of the Holborn and Westminster Law Society, Law reform Committee.
Freedom to Protest