today, the defendant, mark barrett, returned to receive the verdict and sentencing. judge anthony evans refused to read out his written verdict, and refused to enter into discussion over the severity of the sentence.
in previous cases, participants of "unauthorised" demonstrations in parliament square have received conditional discharges, or small fines (the highest so far being £100). the costs awarded have generally been small too, typically £50 to £150, with the higher end reserved for those the judge had thought had wasted court time by "trying to wriggle out of it".
in contrast, mark's case took up just one afternoon of court time, although two of his own after the first adjournment in march, and he represented himself and did not contest any of the 'facts' of the case. his defence was twofold: first - did a picnic by a campaigning group and a banner-making workshop (with no planned demonstration that day) really constitute a demonstration in terms of the law? and second - did the use of this law really accord with human rights legislation in terms of the rights of freedom of expression and free assembly?
the socpa act does not define a demonstration, and the written verdict relied on a dictionary definition and seemed to imply that since mark was known as a campaigner against this draconian legislation, and as the campaign held picnics each week on parliament square, then being at that picnic was of itself a demonstration. this interpretation has huge human rights significance. it would suggest that the designated zone is pretty much a no-go area for anyone who holds political views - any attempt at meeting others or having political or campaigning discussions could be met by arrest, not insignificant fines, and a criminal record for life!
the battle against this ridiculous legislation will step up a gear, and as court cases continue up the legislative system, we hope there will be more media coverage and public debate about it. today, there were several journalists in court to hear the verdict. mark was interviewed for the lunchtime bbc local news, and they did quite a long piece on the subject, including legal analysis. it would be helpful if anyone reading this this afternoon could call the bbc viewers' line (0870 010 0222) to commend the report, and encourage them to show it again at 6.30, as well as continue the reporting on this subject generally.
the next important court date is next week at bow street at 10am on wednesday the 12th april, when milan rai will receive the verdict of his trial as an 'organiser' of an unauthorised demonstration. (see http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/03/335983.html ). the penalties for an 'organiser' are much stiffer, and he faces possible imprisonment, with fines up to £5000. his crime? quietly reading out the names of dead british soldiers and iraqi civilians with one other person, maya evans, opposite downing street one cold october morning last year.
for further information about the campaign against the socpa 132 legislation and the weekly picnics, see www.peopleincommon.org
brian haw, whose one-man anti-war vigil outside parliament is thought to have been the root reason for this legislation, has been in the high court again this week as the government and met police try to overturn a decision to allow him to stay in the square. (currently, he is there on the basis that his demonstration started years prior to this new legislation and cannot be outlawed retrospectively). he has been up against charles clarke in the high court twice before and is now waiting for the verdict on this latest appeal (which was brought by an ever more desperate government).
for more information on brian haw and this week's imminent verdict, see www.parliament-square.org.uk
please also seet recent indymedia reports on the april fool's parade and on the naming the dead ceremony. both of these were 'unauthorised' protests in the area, but there were no directly connected arrests. this may have been because of the larger numbers of people involved, and/or the presence of media. moral of this story? if you want to demonstrate near parliament and keep your record clean, take a large crowd and some media and they won't touch you!