Index on Censorship: Right to protest in Parliament Square “non-negotiable”
02 Jul 10

Index on Censorship is calling upon the new government and mayor of London to re-affirm the right to protest in Parliament Square. With police planning to remove the “Democracy Village” protests in Parliament Square tomorrow after campaigners lost a legal battle with the mayor of London, Index is concerned that a precedent will be maintained that prohibits any form of overnight protest.

Index is also concerned that the police will remove long-term protester Brian Haw, who has maintained his vigil for 3,294 days since June 2001. At the state opening of Parliament on 25 May, Brian Haw was arrested, hardly an auspicious start for a new government that has committed to a “Great Repeal Bill” of illiberal legislation.

Index on Censorship is calling upon politicians to make it clear that the right to protest in Parliament Square is a “non-negotiable” right for the British people and that the legislation that restricts protest there is repealed.

The mayor of London also has an important role in protecting protest in Parliament Square. In 1999, under the Greater London Authority Act, the square was transferred from the Parliamentary estate to the Greater London Authority. As such, the mayor of London has responsibility for the use of Parliament Square and so could enshrine the space as a designated space for protest.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship said:

“The right to protest in Parliament Square is non-negotiable. Whilst there may be long-term consequences in letting the ‘Democracy Village’ stay, it is the duty of politicians to maintain the right to free expression and assembly, and then deal with associated public order issues. The new government has an opportunity to repeal the previous administration’s authoritarian legislation prohibiting protest around Westminster.”

Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship, said:

“Brian Haw’s dogged campaign became one of the most enduring symbols of opposition under the last government. Labour actually changed the law to try and remove him — and undermined the right to protest of the entire nation in the process. The treatment of protesters — and the use of legislation, including counter-terrorism to control them — was one of the most significant blots on the copybook of the previous government, but now it seems the new government wishes to follow suit.”