I’ve split our court story into two because some people might find this section a bit dry. We had to take a written defence to court and this post will detail our effort in that regard.
Our approach was pretty tight in my very unlegal opinion. If we were taking a group of lay people through our argument, they’d be impressed by the references to the European Convention of Human Rights and, hopefully, convinced by the rest that we should stay. We argued that we at least adjourn court and delay the decision. Barclays wanted to get a possession order. Until yesterday we were in the building legally, that was a pretty fun thing to find out. We haven’t violated certain sections of the Criminal Rights Act and it’s not illegal to squat a commercial building (surprisingly, but thank god). The possession order allows them to evict us, so this was what they took us to court to get.
We had to produce a defence document to give to the other solicitor and the judge. We said that court should be adjourned because though they’d met the legal time requisite, we hadn’t been given enough notice to get legal representation. This is pretty solid as a reason to put down because through it we’re not admitting guilt, but it depends for effect on the sympathy of the judge and this was lacking in our case. It depends on the situation too. Even from our perspective, it was really hard to see where a possible ‘defence’ could come from, so even with representation the result may have been the same. Of course, our wish for adjournment was an attempt to play the system and delay the inevitable The law doesn’t function like normal life does. Defence doesn’t mean defence. Defence means: frame your action in a way which puts it within the bounds of the law. It doesn’t mean: give a reason for your action or display how your action could be considered moral.
Our best efforts, and what we were advised to do by a couple of firms with radical sympathies, were based on the Human Rights Act (the UK’s interpretation of the ECHR). Our right to a fair trial supports our wish to adjourn (Article 6); the right to private life can be understood as a right to shelter and we are housing vulnerable and homeless people (Article 8); our right to freedom of expression can be a right to protest (Article’s 10 and 11). All of these different written rights would be denied by our removal from the space.
Apart from all of our perceived rights, there’s also the right to property (Article 1) which trumps all the rest! Our official human rights come with qualifications, routes by which these rights can be curtailed if they need to be. The right to property has nothing like that. Article 1 will always be effective if relevant. Constructing a case out of the Human Rights Act is not general practice in the court, since you’re supposed to be talking about the intricacies of British law. Besides, if we do want to operate on that very strange level, we’re not going to be able to stay in an owned building because of Article 1. Cases have been adjourned in the past via references to these rights, but a case has never been won by them so there’s no legal precedent.
As an aside, it’s hilarious that the Convention of Human Rights begins with a protection of property. Most people don’t have any property: it’s not part of the life experience of most humans, so it’s not a right most people ever exercise in a real way. The most obvious case of the law being written by the rich, white man that I’ve seen thus far. Even more laughable is the fact that this human right is the thing which upholds the whole capitalist system and so it’s what keeps almost everyone engaged in their activity all over Europe. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more to the situation than that, but of course that would be article 1.
Other than that, we – probably mistakenly – wrote some things about knowing that we were trespassing but… doesn’t the place look nice? We were told before going in by the solicitor that Barclays were not interested in negotiation, and so that was slightly worthless. The claimant, Conservative Bank, came with an agenda and wishes. We made a good case for keeping the building: we are maintaining it much better than they were by letting squatters come in every few months to have parties, and we’ll give it back if they want to use it. But the rest of the world works so much more rigidly than that. They want their property so they want a possession order, and the judge wants to interpret the law. If we admit guilt to the charge in our ‘defence’ then they’ve won. It might be as simple as that.
I hope this doesn’t sound too defeatist. We’re still navigating our place in the law now but the impression given by the judge was that this was how it worked. Another impression given though is that the court is partly about psyching people out. If I go into law, I foresee a withdrawal of that description… but it felt as if the judge wanted us to believe that what we were doing was impossible and that we didn’t really have much to offer, though courts have been adjourned on similar material to ours offered, and our defence was based on the recommendation of legal professionals and academics.