December 21st, 2015 by James Goudie KC

R (Barda) v Mayor of London (2015) EWHC 3584 (Admin) concerned Byelaws made by the Greater London Authority with respect to erecting and maintaining fencing around Parliament Square Garden (“PSG”), and their compatibility with Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Garnham J said, at paragraphs 90 and 91, that it follows from the authorities that place, manner and form of assembly and expression of views may be important in determining whether there has been an infringement. However, they are not necessarily so. The caselaw is certainly not authority for the proposition that a protester’s choice of place and form must always be respected. The authorities responsible for PSG must not always accommodate a protest in precisely the form the protester prefers.  The Court must take account of the form, place and mode of the protest along with all the surrounding circumstances in deciding whether the actions of the State constitute a real interference with the exercise of the rights.

The Judge found that there was an interference. The question therefore was whether that interference was justified.

The scope of the GLA’s powers to manage and regulate PSG was broad. Those powers were more than sufficient to permit the erection of fences as a means of managing and regulating the use of PSG.  The interference also pursued a legitimate aim. The fact that the aims changed over time and sometimes covered more than one objective was nothing to the point. The care and maintenance of the physical space, the prevention of disorder, the protection of the rights of others (both those who also wanted to protest and those who simply wanted to enjoy the amenity of the gardens) are all legitimate aims. Those were genuine aims of the GLA at various points during the history.  All of that meant that the critical question was whether the interference was proportionate.

The burden of proof of justification was on the Defendant. This was not a Wednesbury challenge where a degree of deference was due to the decision maker. The Court has to put itself in the position of the GLA at each material stage and ask whether the GLA have satisfied the Court that their response was proportionate given what they knew at the time. It would not be correct to take into account what has become known since the decision being considered, but which could not have been known at the time.

The Judge addressed five issues that were relevant to justification: first, the extent of the interference; second, prior restraint; third, prior authorisation; fourth statutory sanctions and controls; and fifth public liability insurance.

As to the first, although there was an interference, it was far from total. There was some interference with rights of expression and assembly, but that interference was limited.

As to the second, the fencing did amount to a form of prior restraint. However, this was partial restraint.

Third, it is not a breach of Articles 10 or 11 to require prior authorisation for demonstrations or protests.

At paragraph 107, Garnham J said:-

“Those organising demonstrations, “as actors in the democratic process”, should respect the rules governing conduct of demonstrations by complying with the regulations in force. A failure to do so demonstrates a disregard of the rights and freedoms of others and of the need to manage those competing rights sensibly if they are to be enjoyed to the greatest extent possible. Of course the Convention imposes obligations on contracting states not individuals, but if the individual does not play his part a greater latitude must be allowed to the state in the way it responds.”

At paragraph 108, Garnham J said:-

“Failure to obtain authorisation will not negate the rights under Articles 10 and 11. However, in my judgment, it will be relevant in judging the proportionality of the State’s response.”

As to the fourth point, statutory sanctions, the Judge said that the corollary of the State’s entitlement to require prior authorisation was the right of the State to impose sanctions if that authorisation is not obtained. Sanctions were not limited to those provided by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.  That Act does not establish an exclusive scheme for responding to demonstrations in PPSG. The power for the GLA to make Byelaws governing the management and regulation of PSG remains. The Judge also made observations in relation to public liability insurance; and concluded that justification was established.  He said:-

“123.     In my judgment, of central significance in this case was the measured and graduated approach adopted by GLA to the threats of periodic occupation of PSG. Alternative responses, including polite requests, then removals, then arrest and prosecution of individual protesters, were tried without success. The Square was roped off, then part of it was fenced off, then most of it was fenced off. When the likelihood of occupation diminished then the fencing came down.

  1. The response waxed as the threat to the Square increased and waned as it subsided. In my judgment, it was the very definition of a proportionate response.”

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