From the first moments on the afternoon of 15th October 2011, it was clear to me that the Occupation of the London Stock Exchange would benefit from legal advice. Although I am now a non practising barrister, when the first people’s assembly on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral called for people to discuss legal issues, I immediately joined the legal forum. Various forums were set up by that first assembly: shelter, food etc and others. They concerned the immediate matters we needed to resolve to secure our occupation and sustain it. Prior to that first assembly there had been no plan. From that first assembly onwards planning has been conducted with and only with the authority of the people meeting on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in general assembly. All other events have been spontaneous and, if continued, have been approved in general assembly. As I write this, we Occupationists are running two simultaneous assemblies on two sites (St Paul’s and Finsbury Square), which decide matters by consensus across the two assemblies. This is an exercise in democracy hitherto unknown in this country and, surprisingly, highly effective. Anyone visiting our encampment is immediately impressed by the disciplined manner in which we have organised ourselves. Don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself! Everyone’s welcome.
The first legal forum raised a number of immediate legal issues relating to our encampment. The members of that forum were myself, two law students who declared they were going to leave the camp permanently soon afterwards and various other people who had no knowledge of law. Unlike with the other forums set up that day, knowledge of law was crucial to being useful in the forum. When the forum reconvened the second time that day, I was its only member. Being then in a ‘forum of one’ I set about recruiting an external team of advisors.
Consequently I contacted John Cooper QC and requested that he accept instructions from me through the Public Access method of instructing barristers without a solicitor being involved. Although I am his client, I am issuing these instructions on behalf of the entire Occupation at the London Stock Exchange. John Cooper QC has put together a team of barristers from his chambers to assist him in providing advice. The other members of the team are: Richard Furlong, Ninka Braun and Robert Shaw. Due to the very nature of legal advice, my instructions and the advice received must remain confidential. The Occupation would not have any benefit in receiving legal advice if everything was made public.
Obviously the advice must be shared with some people in the camp. I have been sharing it with people on a need to know basis. I’m not naming names here. Since that first day, the Occupation has grown considerably and our internal organisation developed with it. The initial work required by the first legal forum has been achieved and the early forums morphed into teams. I am sharing the advice I receive with the legal team and the media team.
All told the Occupation has three legal interfaces. Firstly, we have solicitors on hand to deal with immediate representational needs should anyone be arrested. Aside from the first day, when some over enthusiastic occupationists proffered unsolicited hugs to police officers, there have been no arrests. There was some petty violence too but only by police officers – they pushed, shoved, punched and kicked some of our people. All of this unprovoked behaviour was filmed and doubtless will be the subject of proceedings in future. All in good time. Should anyone be arrested in connection with their activities at or related to the Occupation, they should avoid using the duty solicitors at the police stations they are taken to. Instead they should contact the solicitors listed by Green & Black Cross. These solicitors have had long experience in dealing with criminal prosecutions arising from various protest movements and have a proven track record.
Secondly, the camp itself organises legal observers to attend actions conducted by the Occupationists and to monitor the camp itself. These legal observers are essentially professionally trained witnesses. They do not give legal advice and do not directly participate in any action. The point of the legal observers is that to overcome the fact that, sadly, police witnesses in court often hold greater sway than regular members of the public despite the fact that the police often lie about what they have seen. That statement can be confirmed by anyone with any legal experience. They are too frequently under considerable pressure to lie. Our legal observers provide an independent record of events. Training is a requirement to be a Occupation legal observer. Daily training sessions are provided. Please see the daily schedule at the camp information point for further information, if you want to become a legal observer.
Thirdly, there is the legal advice to the Occupation as a whole. That is where I have stepped in to organise the high calibre team of barristers. The legal issues are developing by the day. I am constantly contactable, either through this blog or through other means known to the legal and media teams. Some enquiries I receive from my fellow Occupationists betray a misunderstanding of the distinction between what is law and what are really other issues, eg public relations. I filter these issues out. If I receive a legitimate legal question which is appropriate to the Occupation’s needs, I pass it on and I receive the reply. I then share it back to the legal team on site. Therefore, my role has been to organise this aspect of the Occupation’s legal interface.
It’s worth mentioning that another barrister has also stepped up to the plate. A member of 6 Gate Street appeared in the camp as a supporter and conducted some self-delegated mediation work between St Paul’s, the police and the Occupation. His assistance that day was very useful. I’m not naming him here yet because I was unsure whether he wanted me to. If he gets in touch to confirm that he’d like to be named, I’ll include his name in the great and the good.
On Friday John Cooper QC conducted a case conference at the Occupation, which was attended by myself and various other people, all of whom I checked out as legitimately present. The conference was very productive. For reasons explained above, I am not going to share publicly the advice we received. I’ll share just one comment, from John Cooper QC himself:
“This is by far the most unusual location I have ever conducted a case conference in!”
Mr Cooper QC’s involvement with our Occupation is purely professional. He acts pro bono (For free!). I’m in constant communication with him night and day. No wonder he has previously been shortlisted for the award of Human Rights Barrister of the Year. After the conference ended, I guided Mr Cooper QC around the Occupation site by St Paul’s so that he could see for himself the facts on the ground and the detail of our encampment.
One thing must be made clear. All of us occupationists would much prefer to be encamped in Paternoster Square. The police blocked our entry on the grounds that it was private land. Everywhere in the City of London is private land! St Paul’s Cathedral has asked us to leave, citing health & safety reasons but without providing any detail despite our repeated requests that they clarify their concerns so that we can overcome them. Now they bleat to the media that we are threatening to cancel their Christmas! We did not close their doors, they did. In fact we have been generating tourists for them. Sadly, St Paul’s Cathedral has chosen to act as a trojan horse for the Stock Exchange and the capitalist powers therein. St Paul himself was a tent maker. Perhaps the Cathedral authorities should ask themselves what St Paul would have done?