‘Occupy’ encampment evicted from Finsbury Square
The ‘Occupy’ protesters at Finsbury Square, London EC2, were evicted this morning, 14 June 2012. This follows the successful summary determination of proceedings by Mr Justice Hickinbottom on 1 June 2012 and the refusal of permission to appeal by the Master of the Rolls yesterday afternoon.
Ranjit Bhose QC of Cornerstone Barristers was instructed by the London Borough of Islington to advise and appear in this high-profile case, part of the ‘Occupy’ movement’s earlier occupation of land surrounding St Paul’s Cathedral.
Finsbury Square was occupied as part of the protesters’ protest against the perceived failures in capitalism and the banking system. The occupation consisted of more than 100 tents and other structures. It prevented the public from using the open space within the Square, a restaurant within the Square had been forced to close, local businesses had complained, and there were reports of anti-social behaviour and increases in crime.
The Council claimed possession and injunctive relief on the grounds of trespass and threatened trespass, breach of byelaws, and obstruction with the Council’s performance of its statutory duties under the Open Spaces Act 1906.
The defendants relied upon Articles 8 (respect for private and family life), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of assembly) of the ECHR and pressed for a full trial of the claim. The Court of Appeal had previously held that where Arts 10 and 11 were in play, the court had to “focus very sharply and critically on the reasons put forward for curtailing anyone’s desire to express their beliefs – above all their political beliefs – in public”: Hall (and others) v Mayor of London  1 WLR 504. In that case, concerning ‘Democracy Village’ at Parliament Square, there was a 9 day trial. The St Paul’s occupation took 5 days to try: The Mayor Commonalty and Citizens of London v Samede EWCA Civ 160.
Agreeing with Islington’s submissions, Hickinbottom J held that this claim was not genuinely disputed on grounds which appeared to be substantial (CPR 55.8.(2)) and could be determined summarily. He did so after a 1 day hearing, which resulted in orders for possession and injunctions. He held that the balance of factors (including length of occupation, interference with the rights of others, exclusivity of the occupation) were overwhelmingly in favour of Islington’s claims for relief.