The High Court has triggered sharp criticism from civil liberties campaigners by approving the eviction of peaceful demonstrators from Parliament Square. The ruling follows a legal challenge brought by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Green Party politician Jenny Jones, a member of the Greater London Assembly said that the eviction was “at the cost of democracy”.
The Christian activist Brian Haw has camped outside Parliament since 2001, when he began to campaign against the war in Afghanistan. Other peace activists have joined the camp since then, with the numbers rising this year. The site has become known as “Democracy Village”.
The judge, Griffith Williams, ruled yesterday (29 June) that the protesters must leave the Square by 4.00pm on Friday (3 July). The terms of his ruling mean that Brian Haw may continue to use a tent there, but only with the Mayor's permission. The judge warned Johnson that he is expected at least to consider Haw's request before enforcing his removal.
Johnson claims that the campaigners have caused “considerable damage”. But after today's ruling, Jenny Jones insisted that, “The lack of police presence showed that the protesters were not causing a problem”.
She accused the Mayor of being “dogmatic in pursuing an expensive legal process”.
A spokesperson for Johnson argued that, “The mayor respects the right to demonstrate”. But she criticised “the scale and impact of the protest” and added, “Parliament Square is a top tourist attraction visited by thousands of people and is broadcast around the world each day”.
The Mayor's spokesperson urged the campaigners to “leave the site peacefully”. However, several have said that they will behave peacefully but will not voluntarily leave the site.
“I don't believe in violent resistance by any means,” explained activist Quentin Cross to the BBC, as he insisted that he would resist removal without violence, “I will not be moving now or after Friday voluntarily, and I would say the majority of people here hold that view”.
Critics of the camp have alleged that it gives a bad impression to tourists visiting London. But others argue that the existence of Democracy Village immediately opposite Parliament sends out the message that Britain is a country which welcomes free speech and open debate.
Ironically, there is likely to be an increase in numbers at the camp in the next few days, as activists turn up to show solidarity with those facing eviction.