Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Reflections on last night's law night at Occupy LSX

The discussion at Occupy LSX last night was about the role of law in seeking to change the way we understand the society in which we find ourselves.

Interestingly there was far less cynicism about law that there would have been twenty years ago. The excellent David Allen Green produced an anthem to law-adherence which was applauded rather than booed down (as it might have been not so long ago). David was right to remind us that lawlessness is something the rich and powerful are more adept at and able to do with greater impunity, so that we need to be very careful before we write off the rule of law - it remains as David said (quoting the great radical historian E P Thompson) ‘an unqualified public good’.

Why did the rule of law get such an easy ride?

I’d say this is because of the transformation we have seen in the English judiciary in the past two decades, moving from the blind defenders of the status quo that I recall when I first starting teaching civil liberties (in the Thatcher era) to the more nuanced, thoughtful people you encounter on the Bench at the present time.

An example of this was the Occupy LSX appeal in the Court of Appeal (decision on the case due on Wednesday) - it went very well from the occupiers’ point of view:

- they were treated with respect
- their lawyer (John Cooper QC) was warmly congratulated for having taken on the case
- the human rights issues were given time to be developed
- the individual litigants themselves had the chance of a ‘day in court’ that felt meaningful to them and was not just a charade.

This is all excellent news. But it does not mean that the appeal will succeed. I would still say the odds are stacked against.

And of course the judges might change again, losing the humanity which has marked recent appointments and reverting to hard-nosed type (historically the norm).

As we await the Court's ruling in the St Paul's case....

how do we define success?

Already the brave and extraordinary discipline shown by Occupy LSX, the organisational strength of the movement and its intelligent engagement with the issues have marked it out as a triumph. The case - taken against them of course and not by them - has been turned into a public soapbox, giving them a chance to explain their point of view and counter the demonization to be found elsewhere, in some of the Tabloid media, among the more hard-nosed City types and even - saddest of all - in St Paul’s itself where a noisy commitment to social justice has been shown to be risibly skin-deep.

Last night’s event was full of hope - hope that society can be transformed; hope that our culture can find the levels of solidarity that it so desperately needs; hope that equality can be achieved rather than merely spoken about.

But this hope never collapsed into utopian illusion.

Nor did it threaten at any time to morph into a cynical aggressiveness towards a public who refuse to share the dream.

There was an intelligent awareness of the time dreams take to be realised, of the hard work that utopia demands and of the need to be there for the long haul. Minds are not changed by singular actions, however singular. They are changed when society comes to regard these singular actions as the rule rather than the exception, when common sense shifts onto the side of the erstwhile heretic. This can take a long time or happen very quickly indeed. But it can always happen. No situation is so bad that dreams - with courage, determination and patience - cannot be realised.

I was proud to be involved last night and honoured to have been asked to speak.


Jenny Shepherd said...

Cool.I wasn't there, so is there any record of the discussion? Particularly interested in ideas about how to use the law to protect and advance the interests of those of us who aren't part of the power and wealth elite and only have one vote every few years, in contrast to the wealthy companies (and possibly some big NGOs) who have effectively captured the democratic law making and regulatory process. Is there a chance of a law to outlaw lobbying?

Caspar Henderson said...

Thanks for sharing this with those of us who couldn't/didn't make it.

Pinsie said...

For those who couldn't attend in person, our event was livestreamed & recorded, and is available in the 'latest videos' section on http://www.livestream.com/occupylsx

Huge thanks to everyone participating & to the Occupy LSX Livestream team.

Kindest Regards


Saskia said...

Unfortunately I couldn't attend in person, but luckily I could attend this excellent debate online via the livestream.

One of the questions which wasn't answered for me is that whilst some of the speakers were eloquent about the law being useful, at the same time the only reason Occupy London was able to challenge the case was because all of the OL lawyers were acting pro bono. Given the latest assault on legal aid, recourse to law is once again becoming the preserve of the rich and/or famous leaving millions of us at the mercy of injustice which we do not have the means to pursue via legal action. How then does the law and the legal system represent us?

Isabeau Doucet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isabeau Doucet said...

It was a fantastic evening and I too felt honoured to attend.

The previous comment asked about what recourse to justice people with no access to legal aid will have, given the increasingly privatize the legal system. I'd also like to call attention to the deregulation of the legal market, which would "enable law firms to take external investment or even to float on the stock exchange." FT last week: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fcb5cc1e-541c-11e1-bacb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1n4FUZxsS

One of the recurrent themes last night, perhaps not expressed so overtly, was how the law could help the common people to collectively sue the corporation of London.

The Leveson inquiry into phone hacking, and the two other major police investigations connected with it, didn't only happen because of the Milly Dowler story. When it comes down to it, many individual victims of hacking made David versus Goliath decisions to sued the News of the World and thereby forced the judicial system to address their grievances on-the-record. Now, suddenly, one of the most powerful men in Britain in the past decades is looking like a paper tiger. We need to find a way of bringing about a similar lawsuit against the corporation of London.

If the financial sector were like the medical or pharmaceutical industry, there would be strict regulations on what kinds of medicine they could prescribe and unleash onto the market. If your antidote turns out to be more of a poison, the sick can sue for damages. The same should apply to the toxic financial instruments and exotic trades that brought about the global financial meltdown. Yet, those suffering most are the ones least able to respond intelligently to the exclusive mystifying jargon of economists and who have least access to legal means of response. So you get spikey student demos then riots and looting, which is nothing more than the quantitative easing of the poor and voiceless. But the law is still dealing more with punishing students who protested against austerity measures that promised to destroy their future, and inner-city youth who have been told their only value in society is their ability to own trainers and plasma screens, and meanwhile the law is still myopic to the master con artists of the City stock exchange who still believe and foist upon the world their greed-inspired fantastical illusions.

Like the phone hacking scandal, the market pressures to turn a profit and technology evolved much more swiftly than the legal system meant to keep it in check. Though Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry might result in recommendations and codes of conduct that are anachronistic to the speed at which the media and communication cyberscape is evolving, at least there's a truth commission (if not reconciliation) taking place and the public is beginning to understand the depths of corruption, complicity and willful incompetence. It's time for activists and lawyers to come up with and sound strategy for bring to the City of London Corporation something akin to what the Murdoch scandal has brought to Wapping/Fleet Street.

Any ideas on this would be greatly appreciated.

Antonia Layard said...

It was a wonderfully stimulating event ... fantastically collaborative. The discussions about the civil rights parallels and the role of 'celebrities' (academic or otherwise ...) reminded me of this rather inspiring piece of footage posted on the bottom of the (fabulous) Bristol Festival of Ideas website: http://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/ - 1960s celebrities talking in a very measured but passionate way about what civil rights movement meant to them.

Mothiur Rahman said...

Thank you for an inspiring evening. After the event we briefly explored the issue of the division in the way the brain conceives of reality (conceptual v embodied) and the old system of 2 courts (of law/reason and of Equity/justice). I have set out my thoughts a bit more on this, and how this could relate to to Wildlaw/Earth Rights, at the following link:


Thank you again for your time and inspiration.


Occupying Minds with Heart

jason palmer said...

the law is created by the rulers to keep them the rulers