Sitting through the High Court injunction hearing on Monday, I was struck by the importance of ordinary, dignified people being able to protest against the ruling authorities cutting down beloved trees on their streets. The right to protest is a vital part of our democracy, as the Council noted when supporting calls for an inquiry into the Orgreave picketing clashes in 1984.
The court heard the council’s claim for injunctions against 8 individuals – several defendants are Green Party members, including an elected councillor. The outcome is particularly important because the injunction was also sought against “persons unknown” – ie the general public. Like the felling of trees, the Council says legal proceedings are “a last resort.” This increasingly hollow statement brings the authority into disrepute.
The council barrister told the court the right to protest does not extend to direct action but had to concede there is no legal definition of “direct action.” He was also absolutely clear that the case only applied to roads, saying, “you can protest on the pavements as much as you like.” I wrote that down.
The Council also claimed that protests cost it many millions of pounds. This assertion was quickly withdrawn when challenged to back it up with evidence, such as in the Amey contract. It’s nonsense: published contract extracts state Amey “shall bear any loss suffered by any person which is caused by any Protester or Trespasser.”
What next? The council didn’t get its interim injunctions but there will now be a trial from July 26th to 28th. Campaigners desperately need to raise money to cover legal costs so you can show support for democracy and freedom by contributing to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/sheffield-street-strees-legal-fund.
Cllr Douglas Johnson
City ward, Sheffield Green Party