London Critical Mass wins a round

Critical Mass scores a win over Scotland Yard. From The Telegraph, Dec. 2:

Critical mass can carry on cycling
There is no need for the organisers of a mass cycle ride to give the police notice of their planned destination when there are no organisers and the destination is unplanned, the law lords ruled today.

England’s highest court allowed an appeal by Desmond Kay, an environmental educator and performing artist who is a regular participant in the monthly Critical Mass Cycle Ride. For the background, see my earlier report here.

Michael Fordham QC, for Mr Kay, had challenged a ruling by the Court of Appeal that would have allowed the Metropolitan Police to ban the ride, as one of the law lords put it. Lord Brown said he had referred to it as a ban even though the police said they wanted only to know where the riders would be going.

But that was impossible, the judge explained. “Regularly though these rides are held, it is of their very essence that their route varies infinitely. They do not follow a predetermined path; rather they follow whatever impromptu course is taken by whoever happens to be leading. Spontaneity is at their heart. To insist upon a settled route would be to destroy their character and purpose.”

Lord Phillips, the senior law lord, said that both Mr Kay and the police had agreed that Critical Mass was not an organisation but the name given to a recurrent event.

“It takes place in central London on the evening of the last Friday of every month, as it has done since April 1994,” he continued. “Similar events take place on the last Friday of every month in many other cities throughout the world. Critical Mass starts at the same location (the South Bank, near the National Theatre) at the same time (6 pm).”

In September 2005, all those taking part were handed a letter from Supt Gomm of Scotland Yard. This said: “Organisers of public processions are required by law to notify police at least six days before the event occurs of the date, time, proposed route and name and address of an organiser. Failure to do so makes the event unlawful.”

Supt Gomm added: “These cycle protests are not lawful because no organiser has provided police with the necessary notification. Your participation in this event could render you liable to prosecution.”

But that was not true, said Lady Hale, another of the law lords. Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 “does not make the procession itself, or mere participation in it, unlawful. Only the organisers commit an offence, if they fail to comply with the notice requirements or the procession actually held differs from the procession notified. Yet the object of the letter must have been to deter everyone involved from taking part.”

See our last posts on the UK and Critical Mass.

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