today he read out his written verdict in court one at bow street.
there was no dispute about the facts of the case. milan had openly organised a small demonstration in the form of a reading opposite downing street of the names of british soldiers and iraqi civilians killed in iraq. he had notified the police about the time, the place, the nature, and the likely numbers involved. in fact he had furnished them with all the information they had required under the 'serious organised criminal and police act' (socpa) except for his home address and a signature on their official form. on the morning of 25th october last year, he turned up and began the ceremony with maya evans (who became the first participant of an unauthorised demonstration to appear in court and be found guilty). no-one else took part, no megaphones were used, and he co-operated politely and peacefully when the police arrested him after a ten minute warning from them. (report and short film at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/10/326409.html)
he was eventually charged as an organiser in january this year, and remains the only such charged to date, despite mass demonstrations organised by 'stop the war coalition', 'peopleincommon', 'voicesuk', and others in the nine months since the law has been in effect.
the judge thanked the prosecution for their lengthy and detailed legal arguments in the case. the defence had argued that as a magistrate, nicholas evans had a right and a duty to interpret section 132 of the socpa in a way that was compatible with the human rights act articles 10 and 11 covering freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. the judge drew attention to the exceptions allowed under human rights legislation, that governments have the right to interfere with these rights in a necessary and proportionate way in order to ensure public order and the greater good of democracy. the judge agreed that there may be some case in the case of spontaneous demonstration, but that in this case it was clear that milan had been planning the protest for some time, and that the encumberance of applying for notification was not disproportionate and therefore did not infringe his human rights.
there was another approach in the defence argument, that relied on a clause in the act itself that a demonstrator could not be found guilty if 'it was reasonable to assume that authorisation was unnecessary'. their contention was that, as milan had furnished the police with almost all the information they required under the act, and certainly enough information in order to police it effectively, that it was reasonable to assume the requirement of authorisation unnecessary. the judge did not accept this argument as he said reading this interpretation into the act would result in the law becoming very unclear. he stated that he believed that parliament were well aware of the need to balance human rights against 'protecting democracy' and that they had drafted the legislation in such a way as to make sure this was the case.
on one final subtler point of defence, it was argued that the actual charge and prosecution of milan the following january was disproportionate (and therefore in contravention of human rights) given the circumstances (the small size of protest - two people - and the polite and peaceful co-operation of the accused). the judge argued that it is not up to the court to decide on charges and prosecutions and it was outside their remit to interpret laws in this way.
so the charge was proved, milan was guilty of organising an unauthorised demonstration in the designated zone around parliament, and would receive a criminal record and sentencing. he was asked to fill in a 'means form', but he politely refused. his barrister said that she had no knowledge of his means.
the judge acknowledged his profoundly held beliefs and his polite and peaceful behaviour, but said that while dismissing the notion of a prison sentence milan's stance against this law did not come without cost. he gave milan a £350 fine plus £150 court costs, and asked milan if he would be able to pay that today. milan replied that he understood the logic by which the court had arrived at its decision, but that he was bound to stand by his own position - that it is not wrong to commemorate the dead without police permission - and that therefore he would not be paying any fine.
the judge seemed ready for this, and gave him 28 days to pay before applying a 'collection order' which he warned meant that it would be passed onto other authorities with draconian powers to find a way of extracting the fine from him (eg by seizing a car or other assets, or by taking money from a salary or benefits he receives). i spoke to his solicitors outside the court and they were of the opinion that it would still be quite hard for the collection to succeed in milan's case as he owns no car and is self-employed. this process could however have real implications for anyone with a salary in a similar position as it side-steps their right to take a principled stand. the enforcers can simply 'steal' their assets or intercept part of their salary, take the money and case closed!
milan himself is obviously going to continue his fight against this legislation with an appeal on human rights grounds to a higher court, who would be able to look at the legality of the legislation itself in a way which a magistrate cannot. he is also prepared to face imprisonment on this issue, but he was pleased that he hadn't been given a custodial sentence today as he was hoping to attend his own book launch this evening.
for more info on milan's book "7/7: the london bombings, islam and the iraq war", see http://www.j-n-v.org
for info on brian haw's protest in parliament square (which is under imminent threat from a high court decision) see http://www.parliament-square.org.uk
for info on the anti-socpa campaigning group who hold weekly sunday picnics in parliament square see http://www.peopleincommon.org