This is to let you know about a thoroughly successful court hearing I had today. Below is the press release that Gabriel put together and circulated (two photographers showed up and a Press Association reporter doggedly sat through the entire afternoon to catch my brief appearance).
The reason I was in court was because of a name-reading for victims of the Afghan war, a commemoration held on 7 October last year opposite Downing Street. At the event (which fellow JNV-er Maya Evans had organized, rung up and told them she was organizing-but-not-applying-for-permission-for) I was asked by a police officer for my name (and probably my address - I'm a little hazy about the details). I gave my name but I wasn't arrested.
I thought no more about it until a month ago when I got a letter from Horseferry Road Magistrates court asking me to attend, as I was being prosecuted for participating in an unauthorized demonstration in the vicinity of Parliament, an offense under the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (2005). The date was set as 7 May.
I was very puzzled as I had never been arrested, never been charged, had had no dealings with the police or the courts. Suddenly I was being prosecuted? It didn't make sense.
I dutifully rang up to check it was really happening. 'Court 7', I was told.
When I got to court today at 2pm, the photographers made me walk up to the court house again, and then sit underneath the magistrates' court sign. Gabriel, Sue, Eric and Chris were there to support me (thank you!), and we settled in for the afternoon.
As predicted, I was the last case to be called. The usher made some remark about how he was waiting for the prosecutor, that's why we were delayed. I have no idea whether that was just a sop, or whether there was some reality to it. (I think people who are represented by lawyers get heard earlier as the barristers can put pressure on lowly court officials, which us unrepresented folk can't do. They say people who represent themselves in court have a fool for a client.. and perhaps a numskull for a lawyer.)
The District Judge (magistrate) was Caroline Tubbs, who I have encountered before, the last time after another magistrate had blown his top because I refused on civil liberties grounds to give my date of birth to the court. He was sure this was against the law. I was sure it wasn't. At the next hearing, he'd been replaced by DJ Tubbs, who avoided the question of date of birth entirely.
Today, DJ Tubbs again skipped over the date of birth question, and also my address, the other usual identifier. She asked my name, and then whether I was ready to plead.
I said I was a bit confused about the process.
After a bit of to and fro, I explained the situation, that I'd not been arrested or charged at any point.
The clerk, the prosecutor and the magistrate all studied the paper work (which I was given a copy of). The clerk and the judge had to explain a couple of times to the prosecutor that none of the bits of paper he had handed over were signed. They needed to be signed. For example, where it said I should sign for the charge, or for my bail conditions. It wasn't signed. Where it should be signed by the officer who had charged me. It wasn't signed. Nothing pertinent was signed. It was a shambles.
DJ Tubbs looked at the paperwork one last time and said: 'Out of time. Case dismissed.' It was more than six months since the 'offence' had happened, and I hadn't been charged - I couldn't now be charged. So I couldn't be tried.
Gabriel nudged me in the back and I asked for my costs to be paid - around £12 for the train ticket from Hastings. The order for costs was made and it was Peace Movement 3 - Crown Prosecution Service 0.
Interestingly, the police took no action against Maya, even though she rang them to tell them she was organizing 7 October. Just another of the bizarre inconsistencies which make up the story of SOCPA.
I can't help feeling this botched attempt may be the last attempted prosecution under SOCPA. I think maybe the system is dying not with a bang, but with a whimper.
If we all get arrested and prosecuted for name-reading tomorrow that will larn me!
Justice Not Vengeance
> PRESS RELEASE
> 5 May 2009
> Contact: 07980 748 555 (Milan) or 07973 484 202 (Maya)
> PAIR CONVICTED FOR NAMING WAR DEAD REPEAT 'CRIME' FOLLOWING COURT
> 'Illegal' Ceremony Held as MoD Targets Children with War Toys
> Thursday 7 May (2pm, Horseferry Magistrates Court) and Friday 8 May
> (10am 12 noon, Whitehall, opposite Downing Street)
> Maya Evans and Milan Rai the first people to be convicted for taking
> part in / organizing an 'unauthorized' demonstration near Parliament
> [A] will risk arrest this Friday (8 May) by holding an
> 'unauthorized' two-hour reading of the names of Afghan civilians
> killed by US/NATO forces [B].
> Mr Rai has been summonsed to appear at Horseferry Magistrates Court at
> 2pm this Thursday (7 May) for his role in a similar name-reading last
> October, held to mark the seventh anniversary of the invasion of
> This Friday¹s event is being held to mark the second anniversary of
> the US/NATO bombing of the village of Sarwan Qala, in which over 50
> civilians were killed [C], and coincides with the launch of the MoD¹s
> new range of war toys, aimed at 'captur[ing] the imagination of a new
> generation of children' [D].
> Maya Evans said: 'Since the illegal 2001 invasion of Afghanistan,
> US/NATO bombing has caused the deaths of thousands of Afghan
> civilians, and most British people want to see all British forces
> withdrawn. We demand an immediate end to the bombing of Afghanistan
> and the withdrawal of all British forces.'
> Co-organiser, Gabriel Carlyle, said: 'As the MoD launches its latest
> propaganda drive, encouraging children to view war as a game, we aim
> to highlight the grim reality of Britain¹s illegal war in Afghanistan,
> even if this means arrest and imprisonment.'
> To arrange an interview contact Milan (07980 748 555) or Maya (07973 484
> [A] Maya Evans and Milan Rai were arrested in October 2005 for reading
> out the names of Iraqis and British soldiers who had died as a result
> of the war in Iraq, opposite the Cenotaph. In December 2005 Maya Evans
> was convicted of participating in an 'unauthorized' demonstration
> within 1km of Parliament. See: 'MPs condemn arrest of woman who spoke
> out', Daily Mail, 8 December 2005 ( http://tinyurl.com/zoep7)
> [B] Under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act
> (April 2005) organising an 'unauthorised' demonstration within 1km of
> Parliament is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for up to
> 51 weeks and a £2500 fine. Participating in such a demonstration is a
> criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000. For more info.
> see http://www.repeal-socpa.info
> [C] 'The Reach of War: Afghans Say Civilian Toll in Strikes Is Much
> Higher Than Reported', New York Times, 11 May 2007,
> [D] "He's back: MoD launches own 'Action Man' range of toys to boost
> profile of Armed Forces", Daily Mail, 15 January 2009,
Justice Not Vengeance www.j-n-v.org