The Occupy camp at St Paul’s was an extraordinarily evocative site for a protest. In the dark, with the bells tolling and the architecture illuminated, the ephemeral tent city made a striking contrast to the seventeenth century Cathedral. Particularly in winter, the camp never looked like a particularly inviting place to spend the night. And yet the warm welcome at the Information Tent and the open admission to debates and general assemblies at Tent City University created a site that resonated as a public space. It contrasted strongly with St Paul’s Cathedral, which charges adult visitors £14.50 to enter most of the time.
Yet in the early hours of February 28th, 2012, the protestors were evicted after 137 days at St Paul’s. This followed a refusal by the Court of Appeal to grant permission to appeal the decision made by Lindblom J in City of London v Samede. This decision is notable for the way that a map (below) identified the land around St Paul's as a municipal highway, so that 'the logic of pedestrianism' (Blomley, 2012) took priority over everything else. Even more significantly, while the judges referred to this as 'public' land, this made no difference to the eviction itself. Lindblom J emphasised that subject to the consideration of the protestors’ human rights ‘the City is entitled to a possession order under CPR part 55. The City would be entitled to an order for possession of Area 1 even if there were no unreasonable obstruction of the highway’ (at para 101). If, as with Occupy, it is held their rights to freedom of association have not been infringed by the eviction, there is no remedy for those evicted.
So far, however, the Courts have not approved any extended occupation on human rights grounds. Claims that protestors have had their right to freedom of association (Article 10, ECHR) or their right to a home (Article 8, ECHR) infringed have repeatedly failed (Samede, Malik). In each case the (freehold) property rights of the landowner prevail. And so while courts repeatedly tell protestors that they are free to find elsewhere to protest, the same rules apply. All places are property.
These ideas are considered further in a forthcoming book to be published with Glasshouse Press at Routledge: Law, Place & Maps.