The Greater London Authority is trying to pass two bylaws; one covering Trafalgar Square and the other covering Parliament Square Gardens which would muzzle freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest.
The layout of each byelaw differs slightly despite the content being similar so I have prefixed references to specific wording with T and/or P for Trafalgar Square or Parliament Square Gardens. For example T 5 (1) (c) means Trafalgar Square Byelaws 2012 section 5 subsection 1 paragraph c.
Under section T/P 5 of the byelaw it becomes an offence to give a speech or public address, hold up a sign, pass out flyers, assemble, use a megaphone or commit a variety of other utterly inconsequential acts, like climbing a tree (yes, really) without prior written permission from the Mayor of London or a person authorised to act on his behalf. Should you commit one of these “offences” you will be forced to give your name and address to “an authorised person” then summonsed to court and fined up to £200. Don’t believe me? Read the full text (PDF) of the Trafalgar Square Byelaws 2012 and Parliament Square Gardens Byelaws 2012 for yourself.
The byelaws cover far more heinous crimes than tree climbing; Section T/P 3 completely prohibits flying kites, using “sleeping equipment” and dipping your feet in the fountain at Trafalgar Square even if you have permission from the Mayor or one of his authorised minions. It seems there are some crimes that are so awful even Boris Johnson won’t sign-off on them.
It gets even odder; an entire section, section T/P 4, of the bylaw makes it illegal to feed birds without written permission from the Mayor unless you happen to be “an authorised person, a member of the armed forces or of any fire brigade or ambulance service acting in the performance of his duties” and paragraph T/P 5 (1) (q) makes it an offence to “ride any animal”.
Section T 5 (1) (v) and P (5) (1) (s) make it an offence, among other things, to ice skate or use any other “foot propelled device”. Presumably cold weather is expected this summer and a test case will be launched in the high court to decide the legality of pogo-sticks and space-hoppers.
All kidding aside, this is a disturbing development. If confirmed by the secretary of state these byelaws will undermine freedom of speech and the democratic right of protest supposedly held by everyone. I can understand that some people may be mildly inconvenienced in the likely event of protests during the Olympics or the queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer but does that really justify using the law as a weapon to silence people with legitimate grievances from airing them peacefully in a public place?
The byelaws are under consultation until 29th February 2012. During this period you can submit an objection by email to Carl Schnackenberg at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Carl.Schnackenberg@Culture.gsi.gov.uk). Please take a few minutes to explain why the universal right to freedom of speech essential.
Credit to flatwordsedge for the awesome picture.