Even if it does, in pursuit of this collective good should the human rights of individuals be compromised or even suspended? It appears that the authorities believe so. The first ever Olympic ASBO was granted yesterday, severely restricting the freedom of speech and movement of Simon Moore, who has been a prominent member of the Save Leyton Marsh campaign.
At Westminster Court this first Olympic ASBO was issued in the form of an interim ASBO.
Previous to the hearing, Simon Moore believed he was already the subject of an interim ASBO; in fact up until the hearing yesterday he had only received the summons (one of the problems of not being able to access thousands of pounds of legal help is that it is difficult to decipher legalese and therefore even know what charges you face).
The police prosecution set out their skeleton case for the granting of the full ASBO at which a full hearing will follow on 14th June. The legal grounds to apply any ASBO are two stage; whether a person has acted in an ‘anti-social’ manner, in a manner likely to cause distress, harassment or alarm to other persons and secondly whether an ASBO is needed to ‘protect other persons in advance from the assailant’.
Simon has never harmed another person and his previous convictions are all for peaceful protest. Despite this, the prosecution chose by way of an example the case of a person known to have carried weapons who was likely to cause harm and injury to another person.
The test for an interim ASBO had no legal guidance excepting whether or not it was ‘just’.
Simon constructed his own self-defence founded, in somewhat Socratic style, through questioning those present about their concept of justice. He appealed to the inner sense of justice that each individual held, rather than what was defined in a law book, since “justice was sometimes something beyond words”.
Simon declared that he was not ashamed of the previous two convictions which would be explicitly considered in the test for the granting of the ASBO. These convictions, he stated, were obtained whilst doing something that the law deemed criminal. On 18th November 2011, Simon took part in a protest ‘in a prohibited area’; Simon argued that no human being should have to receive prior permission to demonstrate as this in itself is a right. Therefore he was willing to break what he viewed as a unjust law.
He made a passionate defence of his actions on Leyton Marsh (where the prosecution falsely claimed that he did not have the right to be), declaring that “the organisations of the state were not engaged in doing what was right and just” and that it was “the moral duty of human beings to act for what was right”. He pointed out that the ASBO criminalises protest and the freedom of movement and that for the maintenance of a democratic society “we need individuals to take responsibility and individual action. In the delivery of the Olympics in east London, the needs and the rights of the community have been ignored and even worse trampled upon.”
As the basis for the imposition of an ASBO is harm and potential future harm to the public, Simon asked the Magistrates whether they believed he would endanger the public. As a peaceful protestor he had been engaged in attempts to protect the rights of others and had set out never to harm anyone in any way.
Furthermore, Simon said that he had no intention of disrupting the Jubilee or Olympics since his involvement with Save Leyton Marsh was due to the nature of the ‘development’ of the marsh not that it was an Olympic training venue. However, even if he was intending to disrupt the Olympics, the ASBO would still constitute that he had committed a ‘pre-crime’; an idea contrary to democracy.
He summed up by asking: “What is justice? That is the question at the root of this issue. In the legal dictionary, as was pointed out at the beginning of proceedings, there is no definition since it is a word that defies a simple answer”
The Magistrates took very little time to consider this profound question. In somewhat circular fashion, the chief magistrate declared that what was just was what was best for the collective good and this collective good was defined solely by what was legal.
Despite the consideration made of Simon’s sincere declaration that he’d no intention of harming anyone, the interim ASBO was imposed on the basis that his past convictions have caused ‘distress’ and ‘alarm’ and could therefore do so in future (cries from the public gallery pointed out that he hadn’t caused either to our community). These concepts of distress and alarm were of course never defined.
The Magistrates concluded the hearing by warning Simon that any breach of an interim ASBO would be met with ‘the full force of the law’. This means that if Simon goes within 100 yards of an Olympic/ Paralympic venue/ training venue or athletes dwelling, he will be arrested. If he enters land without the prior consent of the owner carrying sleeping equipment or a tent, he can be arrested and imprisoned.
For simply visiting Leyton Marsh, his home for nearly six weeks, Simon could be arrested and imprisoned for up to five years.
So I leave you with a variation on the question Simon put: Is this justice?
And this supplementary question: In the face of criminalisation of peaceful behaviour previously legal and enacted in order to defend our rights and environment, how do we now uphold our own sense of justice?